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Cyber Security: What Is Malware And How To Avoid It?

March 22nd, 2024 | 6 min. read

By Marissa Olson


There’s an overwhelming amount of computer viruses and malicious software out there that it almost seems impossible to try and keep up with constant updates and variants. Have you ever wondered what malware was and how to avoid it?

If this is your first time hearing the term malware, you’ve come to the right place. Before I dive-in on the best ways to protect against it, I’ll give you a little background on what it is.

Malware is short for malicious software and refers to a type of computer program that is strictly designed to infect a user’s computer and cause infliction in various ways. Malware is powerful and can attack a computer in several forms, such as viruses, worms, Trojans, and spyware. I will explain each of these below. 

Malware is one of the biggest threats on the internet to date. With so many of us working from home now, it’s even more important to learn the best ways to keep your computer and network safe and secure. Often when a malware attack takes place, the user is unaware. 

So, in simpler terms, is malware just a computer virus? Kind of, but not really. A computer virus is just one type of malware, and even though you’ll hear the terms “malware” and “virus” interchangeable, they aren’t the same thing.

Cyber Security: What Is Malware and How Does It Work?

Even though malware comes in many different forms, it all follows the same pattern. Without knowing, the user downloads or installs the malware onto their computer or tablet, and that device then becomes infected. 

You may be wondering, “How do I know I’m downloading this harmful virus?” Well, you don’t always know. Sometimes, you need to rely on your anti-virus software, your IT team, or your IT provider to put the necessary preventive measures in place. 

The action of unknowingly downloading malware could be from clicking a link in an email or visiting a malicious website. 

However, you can also experience an attack through file-sharing services that online hackers have control over. Cybercriminals have the potential to embed types of malware so that it spreads from one user to another if people are sharing files, internally or externally. 

Oh, and by the way, mobile devices (such as smartphones) are not safe from this type of virus either and can become infected in the same ways as a computer or tablet. Instead of the virus transferring through a computer network or critical infrastructure, it’s transferred through text messages, online advertising, and even direct from phone to phone.

Another common form of malware is the use of a USB stick or a flash drive. You probably have many files stored on the USB stick that you wanted to transfer from your work computer to your home office as your business switches to a work from home (WFH) environment. If this is the case, you should pay careful attention. 

Because the harmful virus is loaded on the internal hardware of a device (opposed to its file storage), your computer is more unlikely to detect malware. So make sure that you are familiar with the USB drive that you are loading into your computer. 

Common Types of Malware and How They Differ 

For the most part, the majority of malware falls into the following classifications:

  1. Virus: Similar to a virus you can contract from another person; computer viruses attach themselves to clean files and infect other clean files, spreading uncontrollably and damaging a system’s core functionality and deleting or corrupting files. Viruses typically appear as an executable file.

  2. Trojans: Trojans disguise themselves by looking like legitimate software but act discreetly to create backdoors in your security, allowing malware to enter. Trojans received this name since they act much like the fabled story of the “Trojan Horse.” The tricky thing about Trojans is that they can also infect your computer by tampering with clean or new software without your knowledge. 

  3. Spyware: Spyware is pretty self-explanatory— it’s designed to spy on you. Spyware hides in the background and takes notes on what you do online, including passwords, credit card numbers, and surfing habits. It can then be accessed or sent directly to hackers so that they can have access to your private information and any of your online use. You can think of spyware as a virtual way of watching you, then robbing you.

  4. Worms: Using network interfaces, worms infect entire networks of devices, either local or across the internet. Once infecting one machine, worms can travel and infect other machines. They call them worms because these types of software burrow from one machine or network to another. They cause damage by spreading and using your computer network and begin consuming bandwidth and overloading your network servers. 

  5. Ransomware: Ransomware is a type of malware that can lock down your computer, preventing you from even logging in to your machine. Ransomware can threaten to erase every single document and piece of information on your machine unless a ransom is paid to the owner. Even if you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee you will regain access to your information, it will be intact, they won’t try to request more money, or create a backdoor into your system for future access.

Learn more about other common data and cloud security breaches by reading our article, Top 5 Common Data Security Breaches: Prevention. 

Cyber Security Best Practices: Protecting Against Malware

Now that you have a better understanding of what malware is and how it affects your sensitive data, network, and files, you’re probably curious about some ways to prevent malware from occurring in the first place. 

Below are some best practices that I follow and always try to keep in mind to further protect my network and the overall network of my organization.

  • Don't click - if you don't trust the source of information explicitly, don't click the links offered in emails, pop-up messages, text messages, and on websites.

  • Don't download - unless you are on a secure and respectable website, don't download any files or programs.

  • Look for the lock - websites without padlocks near the URL aren't secure. Any information you download or copy from them could be infected with malware.

  • Install a firewall - firewalls block unauthorized access and provide an extra barrier against malware.

  • Keep software update - make sure all your apps and anti-virus software is updated to use the freshest weapons against malware.

In some cases, malware can be removed as your device is restored to normal or factory settings. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all types of malware, depending on how badly your device is hit. 

Partnering with an experienced and well-versed managed IT services company is one of the best ways to prevent malware from occurring or quickly taking care of the matter once the virus occurs. 

A great managed IT company will provide you an extra layer of network security through anti-malware protection software or anti-virus protection software. It’s helpful to have a team of experts to rely on when it comes to the security of your network so that you can focus on other pressing tasks.

Learn more about managed IT services and how your business can benefit by reading our article, Cybersecurity Through Managed IT Services: A Safer Business


The Final Say On Protecting Against Malware

Malware (along with other malicious codes and cyber attacks) is such a dense topic that can affect businesses and employees in many different ways. As you continue to work from home, or if you’re still operating out of your office, make sure to take advantage of these pointers. The best thing you can do for your organization is to keep it safe and protected from outside threats and attackers. 

At AIS, we’re not just a technology company. We’re a company that is dedicated to equipping you with the knowledge and tools you need to continue on your path of growth and success. Our goal is to always provide you with new and emerging data technology solutions for your business, customers, and employees. To learn more about our products and services, reach out to one of our business technology consultants. We’re here to give you peace of mind to help you win more business. 

Marissa Olson

A true southerner from Atlanta, Georgia, Marissa has always had a strong passion for writing and storytelling. She moved out west in 2018 where she became an expert on all things business technology-related as the Content Producer at AIS. Coupled with her knowledge of SEO best practices, she's been integral in catapulting AIS to the digital forefront of the industry. In her free time, she enjoys sipping wine and hanging out with her rescue-dog, WIllow. Basically, she loves wine and dogs, but not whiny dogs.