How can you protect yourself from malware?

Written by Erica

November 13, 2023

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The world has changed – and that change is only set to continue.  Whether at home or in our professional lives, we are more connected than ever before and have multiple devices that we use daily, from smartphones and tablets to PCs and more. 

The drawback to this convenience is that each of us is now responsible for making sure these multiple devices are not vulnerable to malware.  Malware (malicious software) can cause havoc both in our personal lives and for businesses of all sizes.  Devices can become inaccessible, data can be lost, financial records and banking access can be hijacked, and companies can find themselves paralysed.

In this blog post, we take a look at the different types of malware and what you can do to help stay safe and protect yourself.

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What actually is malware?

Malware is the catch-all term for malicious software – it encompasses many different types of software, but here are the most common types:

Viruses:  a virus is malicious software that attaches itself to a file or program.  When you run the infected program, the virus activates and starts replicating and spreading.

Worm:  a worm is similar to a virus, in that it will replicate and spread, but doesn’t not need any human interaction.  There is no program that needs to run to execute a worm, it can consume your computer’s resources and use those to help it spread too.

Trojan:  named after the Ancient Greek Trojan Horse, this type of malware is disguised as something else.  When a trojan has tricked someone into downloading and running it, it will execute the malicious actions that have been coded into it

Ransomware:  one of the most common forms of malware.  Once on a device, ransomware encrypts all the data it can find and holds it for ransom (paid using cryptocurrency).  As with any ransom, there is typically a deadline, at which point criminals threaten to delete or publicly publish any valuable data.

Spyware:  this is a type of malware that wants to monitor what is happening on a computer.  Unlike our other examples, there is no goal to damage the machine; instead, spyware quietly observes while users may log into sensitive systems and gathers credentials, credit card numbers, and other important information.

What can you do to stay safe?

To stay safe against these threats there are two key terms you will see used – Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware. Anti-virus software has been around for a long time and is designed to identify and protect against traditional forms of malware.  It typically does this by scanning files for known patterns of harmful code, often referred to as signatures. Anti-malware on the other hand is a more recent introduction and focusses on some of the more modern and sophisticated malware.  Instead of looking for harmful code, anti-malware focusses on behaviour analysis to detect and then neutralise malicious activities occurring on your computer. Using either of these tools will increase your security, while a combination will provide even more protection.  There are a range of software vendors that have individual and combined products to protect systems from attack.  Some of the most reputable include TotalAV, Norton and Microsoft Defender.

Why are these products important?

Anti-virus and anti-malware software provide a first line of defence against malware attacks.  They help by providing: Real time protection:  these systems operate in real time and make sure if your machine becomes infected, that the malware is identified and neutralised before it can cause harm. Regular updates:  anti-virus and anti-malware software is constantly updated to make sure that signatures and malicious patterns are recognised and that computers are protected against the latest threats. Safe browsing:  the internet is full of sites that are trying to download malware onto your computer.  By warning against potentially malicious websites, the risks of this happening can be reduced. Email security:  phishing attacks are still used as a key delivery mechanism for malicious files.  By scanning attachments, you can avoid becoming infected.
And finally, a word of caution.  While technology undoubtedly plays a crucial role in safeguarding devices and data, it is vital to recognise that the human element is equally indispensable in the fight against malware. Awareness and informed decision-making are paramount. No amount of advanced software can replace vigilance that can create a comprehensive defence by combining human awareness with technological solutions. If you have any questions about keeping your devices safe, we are here to help.  Get in touch with the team for a no obligation conversation about improving and increasing your cyber security.

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