You’ve probably heard the tech jargon for malware before, but how exactly does a Trojan horse fit inside your computer? And what kind of cookie could possibly be bad? Discover what these names really mean and how they affect our Macs.
Malware is a generic term, referring to any program that can threaten the security of your computer. There are many different types of malware, including trojan horses, keystroke loggers, hack tools, ransomware, spyware, and worms. Sometimes, these are combined to form 'hybrid malware', showing characteristics from two or more types.
Much like its mythological counterpart, a trojan horse arrives in the guise of a fun or useful program that you may actually want. Oftentimes, trojan horses can be found on torrent sites, disguised as copies of pirated programs. Once installed, they perform malicious activities such as allowing an attacker to access your computer remotely, pilfering data, or installing other malware components.
A keystroke logger, also known as a keylogger, is a piece of malware that records each and every key you press on your keyboard. This means personal emails, passwords, social security numbers and credit card information can all be recorded and sent to remote attackers. This data is often sold by malicious parties and used to violate your privacy, steal your identity, or open credit accounts under your name.
Each time you view a website, information about your visit is stored in the form of tracking cookies. This is often useful when you return to an online store and it remembers the contents of your shopping cart, but this web browser feature can be used by malicious and spammy advertisers to track, record, and mine data about your surfing experience.
Adware usually arrives in the form of browser extensions or toolbars bundled with other applications. Once installed, it can collect information on the websites you visit, display popup advertisements, and redirect web pages. While not necessarily malicious, adware can still pose a privacy threat and is generally classified as a Potentially Unwanted Application (PUA).
A computer worm is a type of malware that generally communicates with a Command & Control (C&C) server to send data and receive instructions. Worms often participate in botnets, where a large group of infected machines are controlled by the malware author to perform Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks or other criminal activity.
Some of the first malware ever created came in the form of computer viruses, which would "infect" otherwise innocent files, changing their behavior to self-replicate or damage a computer system. These days, computer viruses are seen less often, but the name has become a generic term used to describe many different types of malware, including trojan horses, keyloggers, worms, etc.
Ransomware, as its name implies, is a type of malware that tries to extort money from computer users by holding their systems ransom. One of the newest types of malware to hit the scene, ransomware is an attractive choice for cyber criminals because it presents them with a very clear means of making money off their victims. Ransomware preys on the idea that computer systems and everything they hold (documents, photos, financial records, mp3 files, etc.) are of such vital importance to most people that holding them ransom is an effective way of extorting cash.