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What is Malware?

by Norton_Team

What is malware? You’ve probably heard the word ‘virus’ being thrown around online, or even by your parents when wondering “Why won’t this godforsaken contraption work properly?” We know viruses are bad, but what exactly are they and how can you protect yourself from them? In this article we will learn about viruses and other forms of malware.

First, a virus is a software program designed to make its way onto your computer with the intention of getting up to no good. Viruses aren’t the only danger to your computer though, just the most commonly known form. 

Viruses are a type of malware, or ‘malicious software’. There are many forms of malware out there in the digital world, all designed to cause some sort of havoc. 

Source: Shutterstock

Types of Malware

Malware is software that’s built to be malicious (hence the name).

It’s designed specifically to make its way onto your device i.e. your desktop, phone, or tablet and to manipulate and/or damage them. On top of that, malware can also record and steal your information like credit card account details. Scary stuff!

So what are the different types out there? Well, we have the previously mentioned viruses, but also worms, Trojans, bots, spyware, Adware, and ransomware (that one sounds particularly creepy). Basically there’s enough to give you a headache.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the types.

Viruses, Worms and Trojans

Viruses are always attached to a file. If someone emails you a document with a virus attached to it, you have to actually download the document to be infected. This is one of the major differences between viruses and worms.

Worms can function without the need to piggyback on files. If you’re connected to a network, a worm can break into your computer without you necessarily doing anything. They infiltrate networks and computers by finding gaps and soft spots in their code. Once inside, they can cause serious damage to your data, including destroying system operating files—which will make your device act seriously odd.

Trojans are a type of virus and are designed to give another user access to your computer. Named after the mythological Trojan horse at the battle of Troy, they are pretty harmless during download but then activate once inside. Then things get messy.

By allowing another user to take control of your computer, Trojans can open you up to all kinds of cyber-attacks. Trojans differ from viruses and worms in that they can’t copy and spread themselves. They are a one-off infection. Thankfully!

Source: Shutterstock

Adware and Spyware

These malware are a bit more passive aggressive than outright aggressive.  They don’t attack you as directly as worms or viruses. These guys just open doors and pass along information, often without causing much harm to your device.

Adware’s purpose is to push ads onto your device when downloaded. Now, many websites have ads on them. But you know those annoying ads that pop up on your screen, have multiple links, or are strange colours? Adware lets them do it.

They also monitor the websites you visit in order to present you with more ads. After all, ads are made to be clicked on. If it’s not relevant to you it’s less likely that you’ll click on it.  

Spyware is like the ‘watchful eye’ of malware. It gathers information about the system it’s on. It tracks your activities and monitors your browsing activity. It may even record your keystrokes. This means that if you type a password into an account field it can record which keys you press on your keyboard, in turn recording your password.

Spyware? More like Ninja-ware. 


Bots, short for robots, have many uses, both good and nasty.

A bot is an automated process that interacts with other network services. They’re used to collect information throughout the internet, e.g. they ‘crawl’ websites (scanning through them) for use in search engines such as Google. They’re also used in Instant Messaging (IM), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and other web interfaces.

But when programmed to do bad, they can allow an attacker to take control of an infected computer. Bots are usually part of a network of infected machines, known as a “botnet”, which is typically made up of hundreds of victim machines (also known as ‘zombie machines’) across the world. Skynet, anyone?

Botnets are the bad guys in just about any hacker film ever, so if you’ve watched a film with a hacking in it recently, a bot was probably involved.

Bots have all the advantages that worms and viruses do but are much more versatile.

So as you can see, there is a lot more than just viruses out there.

These different forms of malware have been attacking computers for a long time. With the increasing use of mobile, the focus is moving away from malware aimed at desktop computers to targeting mobile devices, often in the form of apps. Thing is, we’ve heard a lot about computer malware, but people tend to be less aware of mobile malware.

Sure, you might be wondering, can phones even get viruses?

Source: Shutterstock

Yes they can. And iPhones aren’t immune either.

All the malware we’ve talked about today can hijack your phone. Given how many apps we download and how easy it is to miss-click something on your phone, is it any wonder that mobile malware is on the up?

Malicious Apps

Now that you’re up-to-speed with malware, it’s good to know a bit about malicious apps. Knowledge is power after all, so if you know what you’re dealing with, you might be better prepared to avoid the traps.

Malicious apps will most likely seem to be friendly but then subject your phone to all sorts of nasties (a bit like Trojans). The different types include tracking apps, stealing apps and reconfiguration apps. All are fairly self-explanatory: they mess with your phone, observe or straight-up steal your data.

So if we have unwittingly scared you into never using technology again, don’t worry, protection is not only possible, but fairly simple. There are several apps specifically designed to protect your phone from all the ‘big bads’ out there - and most of these are free to download.

This entry was posted on Thu Oct 08, 2015 filed under mobile safety , online security and online security tips

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