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malware (malicious software)


Malware, or malicious software, is any program or file that is harmful to a computer user. Types of malware can include computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses and spyware. These malicious programs can perform a variety of different functions such as stealing, encrypting or deleting sensitive data, altering or hijacking core computing functions and monitoring users' computer activity without their permission.
How malware works
Malware authors use a variety of physical and virtual means to spread malware that infect devices and networks. For example, malicious programs can be delivered to a system with a USB drive or can spread over the internet through drive-by downloads, which automatically download malicious programs to systems without the user's approval or knowledge. Phishing attacks are another common type of malware delivery where emails disguised as legitimate messages contain malicious links or attachments that can deliver the malware executable to unsuspecting users. Sophisticated malware attacks often feature the use of a command-and-control server that allows threat actors to communicate with the infected systems, exfiltrate sensitive data and even remotely control the compromised device or server.
Emerging strains of malware include new evasion and obfuscation techniques that are designed to not only fool users but security administrators and anti-malware products as well. Some of these evasion techniques rely on simple tactics, such as using web proxies to hide malicious traffic or source IP addresses. More sophisticated threats include polymorphic malware, which can repeatedly change its underlying code to avoid detection from signature-based detection tools, anti-sandbox techniques, which allow the malware to detect when it is being analyzed and delay execution until after it leaves the sandbox, and fileless malware, which resides only in the system's RAM in order to avoid being discovered.

Common types of malware
Different types of malware contain unique traits and characteristics. Types of malware include:

  • A virus is the most common type of malware which can execute itself and spread by infecting other programs or files.
  • A worm can self-replicate without a host program and typically spreads without any human interaction or directives from the malware authors.
  • A Trojan horse is designed to appear as a legitimate program in order to gain access to a system. Once activated following installation, Trojans can execute their malicious functions.
  • Spyware is made to collect information and data on the device user and observe their activity without their knowledge.
  • Ransomware is designed to infect a user's system and encrypt the data. Cybercriminals then demand a ransom payment from the victim in exchange for decrypting the system's data.
  • A rootkit is created to obtain administrator-level access to the victim's system. Once installed, the program gives threat actors root or privileged access to the system.
  • A backdoor virus or remote access Trojan (RAT) secretly creates a backdoor into an infected system that allows threat actors to remotely access it without alerting the user or the system's security programs.
  • Adware is used to track a user’s browser and download history with the intent to display pop-up or banner advertisements that lure the user into making a purchase. For example, an advertiser might use cookies to track the web pages a user visits to better target advertising.
  • Keyloggers, also called system monitors, are used to see nearly everything a user does on their computer. This includes emails, opened web-pages, programs and keystrokes.
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