In the post-Covid era of mobile computing, an increasing number of different types of malware are being used by cybercriminal gangs. Even after offices reopened their doors, remote workforces are still expanding, creating more endpoints on every network.
More users and endpoints mean more opportunities for hackers to deploy their malware. What’s more, attack types and threat vectors are evolving. For example, ransomware attacks are becoming easier to initiate as ransomware-as-a-service becomes more available to cybercriminals.
Ransomware is just one type of malware payload. This article explains what malware is and covers the nine more common types of malware. Recognising these types of malware payloads is the first step towards defending them.
- What Is Malware?
- How Is Malware Spread?
- 9 Types of Malware Payload
- How To Defend Against Malware
- Get In Touch
- Further Technology Articles
What Is Malware?
Malware is malicious software that hackers deploy to infiltrate organisational networks or individual user devices. Malware makes its way via emails, fraudulent links, malicious downloads, or fake ads.
A single click is all it takes for malware to download, install, and execute a program. If the infected device is connected to a business network, it’s only a matter of time before the infection spreads to other corporate devices.
How Is Malware Spread?
Malware attacks are most often initiated as phishing or social engineering attacks. While most individuals and organisations have tools in place to detect and block malware, human error makes social engineering possible.
Most malware spreads via phishing emails that land in user inboxes disguised as legitimate messages from reputable companies. These emails aim to trick the recipients into clicking a link to download the malware payload.
Other times, malware is hidden on malicious websites, usually hiding in plain sight and offering ‘free software’ that installs malware onto your computer.
9 Types of Malware Payload
Ransomware comes in several varieties, each with a different payload. Below are the nine most prominent types to be aware of.
Ransomware is the most common form of malware. Ransomware encrypts a device’s data and then holds the user or business to ransom. If the owner doesn’t pay the proposed ransom by the deadline, the files are left encrypted and often destroyed.
Alternatively, if the data is sensitive, it may be released to the public or the dark web, causing the organisation irreparable damage.
Ransomware attacks are steadily on the rise. Furthermore, cybercriminals gangs continue to achieve payoffs due to their damaging impact on hospitals, railway networks, telecommunications companies, energy suppliers, governmental offices, and other organisations providing critical services.
High-value organisations like these often elect to pay the ransom even though law enforcement agencies consistently advise against it.
Spyware is designed to monitor user activities. Cybercriminals log keystrokes as the user types. From that, the malware gives criminals access to credit card information, passwords, usernames, and personal data. With spyware as an aid, criminals can commit credential theft, which makes a data breach possible.
Spyware is often delivered via email attachments or when a user unknowingly downloads suspicious files from the internet. Antivirus software can defend against spyware. Multi-factor authentication is also a substantial aid in preventing credential theft through spyware.
A virus is malicious code can corrupt, encrypt, delete, or move user data and operating system files. It can also steal sensitive data, including customer information, deploy ransomware attacks, and launch Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. Using a Next Generation Antivirus program (NGAV) to run frequent scans helps to defend against viruses. Some NGAV solutions also have anti-malware built-in too.
A trojan pretends to be a legitimate program or app, but it is, of course, a malicious one. A trojan doesn’t spread itself the way a worm or virus does but can cause system damage and have the ability to replicate once activated.
Once the user downloads the app, the victim unknowingly executes the trojan only when they actually run the app. Like most malware, trojans arrive through phishing or another type of social engineering attack.
Adware is more commonly known as spam for a good reason; it delivers unwanted advertising. Most of the time, the ads are harmless and generate revenue for the perpetrator, but sometimes those ads can be malicious (malvertising) by delivering malware and can also hinder the user’s device performance.
What’s more, the ads can tempt users to download harmful malware. Defending against adware means keeping the operating system, email client, and web browser updated so these applications can block adware attacks before they are downloaded and installed.
A worm, like a virus, can duplicate itself on other systems or devices. Though, what makes them different from a virus is that they don’t need human action to spread them once they land in a network.
Most often, worms attack a computer’s memory and hard drive. Defending against worms involves keeping devices updated with the latest patches. Email filtering and firewalls provide additional detection capabilities.
Interestingly, rootkits were not designed initially as malware. However, they are often repurposed as malware because a rootkit enables cybercriminals to maintain system access and backdoors without the knowledge of the IT department or individual users.
Rootkits provide administrator access without letting the user know about it. Protecting against rootkits involves revoking access to anyone who doesn’t need it. This is otherwise known as a zero-trust policy, where users must be verified whenever they seek access. Multi-factor authentication can add a vital additional layer of protection.
A keylogger is spyware used to keeps track of a user’s keystrokes and records them in a log. Keyloggers do have legitimate uses. For example, an organisation can use them to monitor employee activity. Regarding personal use, families often use them to track their children’s online behaviours.
However, when used for malicious purposes, keyloggers can gain unauthorised access to user accounts. From there, they can steal password data, proprietary information, and banking information. Keyloggers infiltrate the system through social engineering, phishing emails, or malicious downloads.
Cryptojacking involves the unauthorised use of a user’s computer, smartphone, or tablet for the purpose of secretly mining cryptocurrency. Unlike ransomware or viruses, cryptojacking is a hidden process, and the victim has no idea it’s happening.
Cryptocurrencies operate using a distributed database called a blockchain. The blockchain updates regularly with transaction information. Each group of recent transactions combines to form a mathematical “block.”
Many cryptocurrencies allow individuals to allocate part or all of their device computing power to produce new blocks. Cryptocurrencies reward those who supply computing power with a tiny amount of that cryptocurrency per transaction.
Those who trade their computing for currency are called miners. Large cryptocurrencies use groups of miners to run dedicated computer rigs to accomplish the needed mathematical calculations. All this activity requires a great deal of electricity. Thus, cryptojacking is a way to hijack unsuspecting users for their computing resources to allow cybercriminals to mine crept for free and keep the profit.
How To Defend Against Malware
Hundreds of new types of malware are reported daily, and there’s no telling how many more go unreported. No matter what type of malware you’re dealing with, it poses a substantial threat to personal users and organisations alike.
Due to this ever-growing threat, users and IT security teams should proactively protect devices and systems. While no single solution can eliminate these malware payloads, there are some practical steps all users can take to defend against malware attacks.
Use Next-Generation Antivirus (NGAV)
Malware prevention software such as BitDefender and Malwarebytes are comprehensive Next-Generation Antivirus (NGAV) solutions that offer formidable endpoint protection and virus protection. Running regular scans prevents users from accidentally executing malicious files or visiting malicious websites. Other software programs are TitanFile and Spybots, which helps defend against spyware.
Improve Your Cybersecurity Awareness
In addition to installing protective software, there are practical habits that all users should adopt. When reading an email, review each message, even if you’re familiar with the sender. If an email appears too good to be true or has a subject line uncharacteristic of the sender, don’t open it.
Watch What You Download
Avoid downloading email-attached files. If the message appears to be from a reputable website, you can navigate to the website manually and find the file you need. The same goes for links embedded in an email, don’t click on it.
Use a Secure VPN When On Public Wifi
Also, when working remotely, avoid using public networks. Go through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you need a public Wi-Fi connection. Finally, if you’re not connected to a secure cloud, be sure to back up your files. If you are the victim of a malware attack, you’ll have a recent version of your files.
As cybercriminals and their malware campaigns become increasingly sophisticated, it’s vital that individual users and IT security teams keep abreast of the latest anti-malware software and best practices.
Users should use common sense when reading emails or working on public networks. Understanding these nine most common types of malware is key to understanding what you can do to reduce the threat of attack.