The Worldwide Web is a wonderful place, full of opportunities and possibilities. Ever since its inception in the 1980s, the Internet has continued to expand at an incredible rate. With advancements constantly being made across the board, the Internet is used in just about every sphere of life. Today, it has become an inseparable part of both business and leisure. Unfortunately, along with the opportunities provided by the Internet comes the potential for malevolent activity too. As the web continues to expand and become increasingly complex, the number of ways in which hackers can cause trouble grows. Most people are familiar with computer viruses but the broader notion of malware or malicious software encompasses far more than many realize. Without fully understanding what it is, there’s no way one would be able to protect themselves and their businesses.

This article will step into the world of malicious software and lay out the basics of the darker side of the web. You’ll learn what malicious software is, how it works, and you can defend against it.

What is malicious software?

What is Malicious software and how does it work

Malicious software, otherwise referred to as malware, is a broad term encompassing any kind of software that intends to harm the user in some form.

There are several common motivators for hackers to use malware as a weapon against individuals or organizations. Here are a few:

Financial incentive

Hackers may use malicious software to procure financial rewards from their targets. This is most relevant with high-profile victims like big organizations. Some examples are Ransomware attacks in Colonial Pipeline, JBS Ransomware attack, or more recently, the conti ransomware attack in Cost Rica.

Hacktivism

Generally, hacktivists target large organizations in the public eye to humiliate them or send a message to them and the public. They use malicious software to break into sophisticated security systems. The motivations behind this may be social or political.

Revenge

Often, hackers use malicious software to implement revenge plots against individuals or organizations they believe have done them wrong. In this case, the attack is purely motivated by anger, often without fear of repercussion.

Infamy

For some, it’s as simple as gaining recognition for their activity and expertise. These days, in a world ruled by social media, it is far easier for one to gain recognition on a global scale. Using malicious software is one way to do it.

Challenge

For some hackers, it’s simply about a challenge: to break an “unbreakable” system. While one may hope that IT and software specialists will use their expertise for good, sometimes it is malevolent activity that attracts them.

Subversion

Subversion is the act of using malicious software as a tool in corporate espionage to meddle in corporate and social affairs and sabotage large projects and organizations.

There are several motivators behind using malicious software against an individual or organization. However, the intention to cause harm to gain unauthorized access to data or applications is universal amongst them. Furthermore, these acts are often carried out with no regard for the harm it will cause the victim.

In a world in which malicious software and hacking run rife, ensuring that you or your organization have top-tier cybersecurity is essential.

How does malicious software work?

One of the most important things to know about malicious software is that it is not limited to computers. In fact, any device that can connect to the Internet is vulnerable to being infected by malware. That means your business enterprises are at a higher risk of malicious software intrusion.

There are many different things that hackers may do once a device is infected. Here is a rundown of the most common:

Taking control

Once a hacker has infected your device, they may be able to take complete control of it. This can include changing and resetting passwords, installing programs, and even stealing intellectual property. Essentially, anything that is on your device that has been infected is accessible to the hacker.

Ransomware attacks

Ransomware attacks generally target large corporations and organizations with large amounts of money at stake. Ransomware attacks aim to gain access to computer systems and devices through phishing or other socially engineered plots, and they go on to infect your device with malicious software.

After encrypting a hard drive, they demand a large sum of money in exchange for regaining access to their own system and/or data. In theory, once the amount is paid, the hackers remove the encryption. However, there is no guarantee.

Keyloggers

As mentioned, ransomware attacks tend to target large organizations rather than individuals. When it comes to exploiting individuals financially, hackers tend to use keylogging.

Infecting an individual’s device with malicious software that allows them to see, follow, and record all their activity. This constitutes a massive invasion of privacy but the biggest risk is their ability to gain access to sensitive information like credit card details, online banking login details, and more.

Although keylogging attacks are typically on a much smaller scale than ransomware, they are just as serious for the individual.

APT malware

Hackers often use malicious software for personal reasons. For example, they may be carrying out vendettas against organizations or individuals who they believe have done them wrong.

In the case of APT malware, it’s more about individuals targeting other individuals familiar to them. This may be a spouse, a former partner, or any other kind of acquaintance. In cases such as this, APT malware (advanced persistent threat malware) may be used to gather information about the target without being detected.

Essentially, APT malware allows hackers to gain access to systems and lurk undetected in the background of them. In doing so, they can gather information about their targets without drawing attention to themselves.

While it may seem relatively benign, the use of APT malware against individuals is often incredibly sinister and a cause for alarm. Hackers can use information gained by this method to find out personal information about individuals that may leave them vulnerable. In fact, in the most extreme cases, APT malware has been used by malicious personalities – such as stalkers and even murder by serial killers – to track down their targets and do them harm.

Trojans

Trojans portray themselves as trusted programs to gain access to a device. Unsuspecting individuals download a trojan thinking that it is, in fact, reputable and safe software. However, in reality, they act as vectors that enable harmful malicious software to be installed.

The lesson here is to never be too trusting when it comes to downloading foreign programs and software!

Password crackers

Password crackers are programs that work to figure out your passwords. As a form of malicious software, these programs gain access to your device and work through hundreds and thousands of possible passwords to guess your password through brute force.

Fortunately, running a password cracker is a very time-consuming process. Furthermore, the longer and more complex your password, the more options there are statistically. In turn, this means it will take far long for the password cracker to guess your password. This gives you and your cybersecurity software more time to detect and eliminate the malware.

Worms

Worms are one of the most harmful types of computer viruses in circulation and can cause widespread damage. Unlike other forms of malicious software, worms are not only able to infect systems and devices but will subsequently self-replicate and spread to any other devices and systems that they encounter. Because of this, worms have far-reaching consequences and have the potential to cause major damage in a short amount of time.

How to protect yourself or your organization from malicious software

Clearly, malicious software can be incredibly harmful to your personal devices. Given that it’s always preferable to entirely prevent a security incident than deal with the ramifications afterwards, here are a few ways you can try and get ahead of potential hackers.

Always use strong passwords

The stronger your password, the higher chance you have of avoiding being hacked. But what constitutes a strong password?

There are a few aspects of passwords that are important. To create a strong password:

  • It needs to be between 18 and 20 characters long
  • It must contain at least one number or symbol
  • It can’t contain dictionary words
  • It must be made up of both upper- and lower-case letters

The best thing you could possibly do is make up a password that is complete nonsense. That way, the chances of your password being figured out are far lower. Just make sure you can remember it!

Digital disguises

For malicious software to be able to function effectively, they need to be designed for a specific operating system such as Windows, Apple or Linux. If the malware that infects your device is suited to a different operating system than what you are using, it won’t be effective.

Thus, it’s possible to use this against hackers. By disguising your operating system, you are able to confuse and deter hackers.

Be careful of where you click

Phishing is one of the most common sources of hacking and viruses as it’s not always easy to detect scams. Pay extra attention not to click on booby-trapped links. These are links embedded with malware that will infect your device once you click them.

There is no easy way to prevent this. The best way is to simply take special care when receiving emails from unknown senders and train your staff on some of the key pointers of phishing emails.

Stay updated

Hackers and software developers are constantly trying to outsmart each other, coming up with innovative ways to hack into systems and sophisticated ways in which to fool hackers respectively.

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from malicious activity is to ensure that your devices are always up to date. Computer systems are constantly tweaked and changed to ensure they offer the best protection possible to you and your data from known malware. In short, the more updated your device is, the safer you will be.

Work with a reputable cyber security solutions vendor

One of the best ways to protect against cyber security threats is through a layered architecture of cyber security solutions. Software such as a next-generation firewall like Sangfor NGAF, endpoint security, cloud-based SASE, and other cyber security solutions can lock down your cloud premises from malicious software. Each business will have a different set of needs and requirements, so be sure to talk to a specialist to find out exactly what is necessary.

Read more about 10 ways you can improve your network security and continue smooth, uninterrupted business growth.

Final thoughts on malicious software

While the Internet brings with it boundless opportunity and endless potential for innovation and development, it also introduces the potential for danger and malevolent activity. While not all kinds of hacking and malicious software may be prevented from causing damage, technological advancements allow users to have a better shot at protecting themselves.

Learn more about some of the cyber security solutions to protect from ransomware and malicious software offered at Sangfor and how you can protect your business from the dangers of malware. For any additional questions, do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our specialists.

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