What is malware and how can you protect your device against it?
It was only a few years ago that everyone learned of the enormous capabilities of malware. WannaCry, a strain of malware called ransomware, shut down the NHS in the UK and companies across the world in a matter of hours.
WannaCry left everyone on high alert, including the average computer user. Where viruses used to be the most popular cyberthreat, now there was malware – and it had the ability to nearly shut down the computer infrastructure of companies in different countries.
Which is why you’re here, of course. What is malware? Could it affect you? How can you prevent malware from harming your device?
Luckily, you’re in the right place – we’ve got all the answers.
What is malware?
Malware is short for malicious software. It’s a term that’s used to describe any application or programme that’s made with one intent: to harm its users by crashing their device, stealing their information or opening the door to other types of cyberthreats.
There are a few different types of malware:
Each type of malware plays a unique role for cybercriminals and poses a particular threat for users.
Remote Access Trojans (RATs), for instance, let cybercriminals take over a user’s computer. If you have sensitive documents stored on it, they can go rummaging through the device until they find it. Ransomware, on the other hand, locks those files up until the user pays a ransom to unlock them – and even then, they sometimes stay locked up.
In many instances, malware isn’t after your files. It’s after your browsing history and all the details that go along with it, like your online banking information. If you have saved password and login details, or enter them after getting the malware, cybercriminals can steal that data using the malware.
Malware comes in many shapes and sizes, and most importantly from many different locations. There isn’t one single way that it’s delivered and it can come from:
- Email attachments
- Drive-by downloads from websites or images
- Peer-to-peer file sharing or torrented software
- USB drives
- Downloads of any type of application
Because it’s such an adaptable tool for cybercriminals, being able to spot a situation where malware may be used is key to early intervention and prevention. The devil is in the details, and knowing how malware works can make all the difference.
How to spot malware
Let’s break down what malware actually is for a quick second, because users can learn a lot about it – and dispel a lot of rumours – from its name alone. Malicious software:
- Is a file (hence the software bit).
- Needs to be executed (e.g. ‘run’) to have any effect.
- May or may not have a significant impact on a device when it infects the device.
It’s important to understand all of that, because users who haven’t dealt with malware may be holding on to some misconceptions that they don’t even know they have.
For instance: some people think that they can get malware from simply opening an email. While in very rare cases this can happen due to compromised images featured in the email itself, this often isn’t the case. If you were to open that email, download the attachment and open that attachment, then you might be inviting malware to your computer.
Understanding this path of how malware infects devices can help you spot it before it’s too late. Malware almost always – though never say never – needs user input to be successful. That means as long as you aren’t visiting any dark corners of the web or communicating with any alleged Nigerian princes, you have a great chance of keeping your device safe.
If you ever find yourself in the following situations, you’ll want to keep your wits about you and make sure you’re not doing anything that could put your computer at risk:
- Opening emails from people you don’t know – especially if there’s an attachment.
- Viewing websites that offer free downloads of software that you normally need to pay for.
- Clicking on pop ups that promote free software or say that your device has a virus.
- Going to websites with URLs that contain a bunch of letters and numbers, or are generally unreadable.
Sometimes accidents happen and you find yourself at the whim of malware (or, at least you think you do). If you want to be certain, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your computer running slower than usual?
- Are files moving around without your help, or is your mouse clicking places you didn’t try to click into?
- Are you getting an abnormal amount of pop ups, even when you’re not browsing online?
- Do you have new files, software, folders or toolbars installed?
- Is someone resetting the details of your online accounts or trying to access them?
How to protect against malware
Knowing the tell-tale signs of malware or the common scenarios users get infected is important, but having malware protection software is what can truly help keep your device safer on the web. Because let’s be honest – we all make mistakes and one mis-click shouldn’t mean you have to buy a new computer.
Norton 360 provides powerful layers of protection for devices and online privacy – all in a single solution. The antivirus and malware protection can identify malware in executable files, helping keep your device safe while you handle your online banking or online shopping.
In fact, we’re so confident in our antivirus and malware protection, that it also comes with our Virus Protection Promise. If your device gets a virus our Norton experts can’t remove, you get your money back! ²
Malware protection software, along with a good idea of how cybercriminals try to infect computers, are two effective ways in avoiding becoming a victim of malware. If you’re interested in taking the next step towards better protection, read more about Norton 360 offerings.
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² Virus Protection Promise: To be eligible, you must have a qualifying subscription with automatic renewal. If a Norton expert is unable to remove the virus from your device, then you may receive a refund based on the actual price paid for the current term of your qualifying subscription. If you have a bundle (a qualifying subscription from NortonLifeLock purchased with either another offering from NortonLifeLock, or a third party offering), your refund will be limited to the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of only your qualifying subscription for the current term, not to exceed the total bundled price paid. Any refund will be net of any discounts or refunds received and less any shipping, handling and applicable taxes, except in certain states and countries where shipping, handling and taxes are refundable. The refund does not apply to any damages incurred as a result of viruses. See Norton.com/guarantee for complete details.
Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.