The Malware Situation: COVID-19 Edition

The introduction of consumer computers exposed online users to a new type of threat—a threat that could ruin someone’s life with just a few clicks. A threat many are exposed to on a daily basis. What threat? The threat of malware, of course!

Malware, short for malicious software, comes in many forms, and cybercriminals have taken advantage of each: disrupting online services, holding users for ransom, and even destroying users’ devices. 

What’s worse is that these malware attacks have only increased in both number and severity since the late 90s. And while many are focused on how to market their sites and businesses in the COVID age, the current COVID-19 pandemic has allowed cybercriminals to attempt more malware attacks. For example, some hackers have disguised malware as contact-tracing apps, apps that allow health officials to determine where a COVID-infected person may have been and who they have interacted with.

Remote workers are also prime targets for hackers, and many malware campaigns have been held targeting remote workers. 

So, all that said, it’s important to pinpoint the types of malware that are affecting users.

The Types of Malware Affecting Users

There are many types of malware, from your simple virus to complex worms. For the sake of simplicity, this list will only list 5 forms of malware—forms that represent major threats to individuals today.

1. Ransomware

In 2017, millions of users found their computers locked. Or, to be more precise, held for ransom. A program named WannaCry held their devices hostage and demanded varying sums of payment. If the user compiled and paid, their devices might be unlocked. If not, the data found in the device would be erased.

However, it never mattered if the user paid—their device would be locked forever, their data lost. WannaCry caused billions of dollars in damages and made ransomware a fan-favorite for cybercriminals all around the world.

Now, in 2020, ransomware is a legitimate threat that users need to be on the lookout for.

2. Adware

Nothing says annoying like pop-up ads. But what if pop-up ads weren’t limited by a website? What if they could pop up anytime, anywhere on your system? 

Well, that’s what adware does. Once installed onto your device, adware incessantly creates ads on your device no matter what you’re doing. These ads may be dangerous to click on, but adware is more of an extreme annoyance than a legitimate threat most times.

3. Worms

Everyone knows what a virus is, but many don’t know about another, common threat: worms.

Computer worms spread from computer to computer throughout a network, replicating itself on each device. Unlike viruses, worms lack the need for human activation or software launches—it works entirely on its own.

Once activated, worms can delete important files, modify said files, steal data, damage the OS, or download other malware. Suffice to say, worms can cause serious damage.

4. Trojans

Named after the Greeks’ ingenious tactic in the Battle of Troy, Trojan horses get their name by sneaking their way onto users’ devices through emails, applications, and websites.

Trojan malware often comes in the form of files or documents. Once the user opens these files, the trojan makes its way onto their device, and it will then do whatever it was programmed to do, from stealing files to erasing them.

5. Spyware

Spyware can come from anywhere. Knowing when your device is infected with a piece of spyware can be difficult. But while you’re debating whether or not to download that malware scanner, spyware is busy collecting your information, analyzing your keystrokes, sending your data to a hacker, and even changing your security settings.

Out of all of these forms of malware, spyware represents the biggest threat to a user’s privacy. Meaning, users should take great care in avoiding it.

How to Protect Against Malware

With so many types of malware lurking on the Internet and plenty of nefarious hackers ready to deploy them, it’s imperative users do whatever it takes to protect themselves. But how can users do that? Listed below are a few tips for every user to take heed to. 

Install Anti-Malware Software

Malware thrives on devices without proper security applications. After all, how will the device know about a potential malware infection and warn the user if there’s no software to detect such intrusions?

This is where anti-malware software comes in. Anti-malware software frequently scans through your device and its files, searching for any program that could be considered malware. Once found, you’re notified and given the option to boot the malware from your device.

Use Properly-Configured Firewalls

Firewalls filter out Internet traffic in an effort to keep out dangerous and/or unnecessary traffic. And while firewalls were extremely effective back in the early days of the Internet—and still are, to an extent—they’re not as potent as they once were. Modern malware requires more effective filtering methods.

Fortunately, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) make a great addition to a firewall and can even substitute as a firewall. A function of VPNs is to anonymize users’ data and hide their IP addresses, making it difficult for any cybercriminals to locate you and your device, reducing the chances of cyberattacks.

Avoid Sketchy Downloads and Harmful Links

Certain malware—such as the Trojan Horse malware type mentioned earlier—infect devices through stealth, by keeping a low-profile and sneaking onto a device through a file or application.

Typically, these files and applications come from seedy websites and fraudulent applications designed only to infect devices. Poorly-designed applications also fall victim to malware.

Avoiding these apps and sites is key to avoiding the malware that often comes with. In other words, refrain from downloading strange files from people and places you don’t know or are not sure of.

Always Update Your Devices

Lastly, it’s important that you always update your device and check for updates frequently (once or twice a week). Why? Well, software updates often come with security fixes and patches that help keep your device secure. If you refuse to update your device, you’re at greater risk of being affected by a malware attack.

Updating your devices only takes a few minutes and significantly decreases the chance you suffer from a malware attack.

Jack is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. A passionate digital safety advocate himself, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media sharing expert insights on cybersecurity and privacy tools. 

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