Whether you run a website or not, you’ve almost certainly heard of malware by now, along with its widespread notoriety, devastating effects, and continued threat to individuals, businesses and organizations the globe over.
If you aren’t so familiar, however, and would like to find out more about malware itself, and also how to safeguard devices and websites against it, you should read on.
What is Malware?
In order to get a full grasp of what we’re dealing with, let’s firstly break down the term ‘malware’. Generally speaking, malware refers to any type of file or program that was developed to be harmful – in any shape or form – to a computer, system or device.
Malware – the unholy union of the words ‘malicious’ and ‘software’ – is an ever-changing, constantly evolving threat, often wielded by cyber criminals for nefarious reasons, including data, identity and financial theft/fraud.
What is it Used For?
When it comes to our computers and devices, whether at home or in the workplace, malware can be used to compromise them with:
- Virus Infections. Viruses corrupt and prevent data from being usable; following an infection, a virus can wreck havoc on a machine, deleting files, and even causing major data loss.
- Ransomware Infections. Ransomware is no stranger to cyber news headlines and business website owners; hackers show little mercy, encrypting (locking) data, and only offering the user access once a financial ransom has been paid.
- Trojan Infections. Trojans – the name should be a giveaway – present as innocuous programs/files, but actually, one way or another, open the door to malware; successful infection can also lead to hackers installing yet more malware.
- Spyware Infections. Spyware is exactly what it sounds like: software designed to snoop on user activity and data; this nasty stuff can be used to monitor data entered, such as the personally identifiable kind (sensitive/financial details, logins, etc).
What is Website Malware Used For?
Websites aren’t immune from malware either, and have been a long-time target for hackers. With websites, malware can be used to:
- Redirect Visitors to Bogus Sites. This particularly deceptive practise involves redirecting visitors to a different website that is in fact malicious; it could have been developed to steal visitors’ sensitive data, run scams, download malware, and may also be a spoof (replica) of the genuine website.
- Alter Website Appearance. Whether it’s for the purpose of placing spam or pure vandalism, malicious defacement can impact reputations with search engines and visitors alike; bear in mind that, while some spam content may be visible to visitors, it may not also be visible to website admins.
- Commit Data Theft via Imitation. This could involve redirecting a website’s traffic to a different, yet similar/spoofed version (see above), in order to commit fraud, etc; it could also, for instance, involve placing a malicious form on the site which would enable the hacker to receive any inputted sensitive data.
- Drive-By Downloads. Drive-by downloads refer to harmful programs or software, including various types of malware, that are forcibly downloaded from websites; unlike with regular downloads, no on-screen consent window will be displayed.
How Does Malware Attack?
Technical jargon aside, the simplest explanation for how malware manages to attack/compromise a computer, device or website, is that it does so by exploiting one or more vulnerabilities.
Malware is like a spear searching for weak spots or holes in a shield; once found, it will penetrate to land a damaging blow (or more literally, in order to infect a system and carry out malicious actions).
Which Flaws Does Malware Target?
There are several types of vulnerabilities that a strain of malware and its orchestrators could target. But generally speaking, they tend to involve the following:
- Weak Passwords. It goes without saying that weak passwords (too short/lacking multiple characters/easy to guess) will make the task of hacking accounts far easier for cyber criminals.
- Unprotected Devices. Without a trusted antivirus and antimalware suite installed, the risk of our various devices becoming infected will always be greater; this could lead to, for instance, a website’s admin logins becoming exposed, etc.
- Outdated Software. As we’ve already covered, hackers develop their malware to target system vulnerabilities; so therefore, in order to best safeguard your devices and websites, don’t neglect to keep operating systems, apps, plugins and themes, etc, as up to date as possible.
- Zero-Day Exploits. When a hacker identifies an undiscovered flaw and immediately tries to exploit it, this is known as a zero-day exploit; since developers of legitimate software, such as operating systems and apps, will have minimal time to patch the flaw, they will be at least one step behind, making the threat all the more dangerous.
How Can You Prevent an Attack?
While it’s impossible for our websites and various devices to ever be truly 100% secure, there’s still much that we can do regarding prevention. To best safeguard against the threat of malware, you can start by employing the following fundamental measures:
- Strong Passwords. Always use strong (multi-charactered, unique) passwords for each of your online accounts.
- Install Antivirus. Install reputable antivirus and antimalware suites; this software performs regular device scans and can alert you to any potential threats lurking.
- Trusted Software. Unless there is a valid reason, try to only install software, apps, plugins and themes, etc, from sources that are trusted/verified.
- Update Software. Try to keep your software, including operating systems, and once again, apps, plugins and themes, etc, as up to date as possible.
- Website Security. You could consider installing a website security plugin; just as with antivirus computer protection, this software can run extensive scans and offer detailed reports.
- Avoid Phishing. Phishing scams (fraudulent emails and text messages, etc) can contain malware-laced attachments, along with links to bogus websites; here, prevention is vigilance.
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