What is malware, how it works, and how to remove it?

Ruheni Mathenge Last updated: January 2, 2023 Read time: 13 minutes Disclosure

If your computer or any other device has a malware infection, this guide explains what it is, and how to get rid of the malware quickly.

Sneak peek at malware

Malware is an umbrella term referring to almost all sorts of malicious software, such as viruses, ransomware, botnets, and more. While today’s cybersecurity advancements have produced robust anti-malware solutions for all users, the ever-evolving nature of malware has made it a significant security problem for the cybersec community. Therefore, knowing about malware and how to deal with it is critical.

 

The term ‘malware’ refers to any malicious software designed to intentionally manipulate or interrupt a device’s normal functionality. These include viruses, ransomware, worms, spyware, Trojans, and adware. Unfortunately, they can infect any device with computing capabilities like your smartphone, PC, laptop, tablet, and servers.

The first malware to be developed was utterly harmless. However, the advancement of technology, computing, and software development has made malware more prevalent and sophisticated.

Read along to learn how malware works, how it gets into your computer, how to remove malware quickly, and much more.

What is the implication of malware?

Malware is meant to infect devices and networks to harm them or their users somehow. It can come in different ways depending on the type of malware and its goal. For instance, it can be a low-risk program arriving via ads, or something severe impersonating legit software to trick users.

Regardless of the method, all malware types benefit the hacker at the user’s expense and device. Cybercriminals use malware to render computers inoperable, steal passwords, and delete files. It can cause many issues that affect daily operations and the long-term security of users.

Types of malware 

There is a wide variety of malware, and new ones keep coming up daily. Here is a list of some of the most common malware types. 

  1. Viruses – These are malicious programs that work by modifying other files in your computer to spread. Different types of viruses exist, but they all spread similarly. 
  2. Spyware – This program enables criminals to access your passwords, keystrokes, and other sensitive information. Note that some spyware types are more perverse than others. For example, those used to monitor loved ones’ devices are less sophisticated than those hackers use to steal bank credentials. 
  3. Ransomware – These are programs that hackers use to encrypt crucial files on the victim’s computer and demand payment to decrypt them. They are also known as ‘crypto-lockers‘. Ransomware can be overwhelming to large organizations, with some of them losing millions in damages
  4. Rootkits and bootkits – Rootkits are incredibly advanced as they infect the lowest levels and highly trusted computer code. On the other hand, bootkits affect even lower (or initial) levels of the system, such as the boot process. 
  5. Bot – Criminals use botnets to control many computers simultaneously remotely. Actually, these botnets are commonly used for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on systems and websites. A device is infected with bot malware to join the botnet
  6. Adware – This is the least malicious malware type as it just displays ads on your device. However, don’t disregard adware because sometimes it can be bundled with more sophisticated malware.
  7. Worms – These malware types can migrate from one machine to another by exploiting security weaknesses. Making it worse, they function on their own without requiring user intervention. 
  8. Trojans – These malicious programs steal personal information, launch an attack, spy on activities and even crash the device.

How does malware spread?

The spreading mechanism depends on the malware type. Some like worms and viruses are described by the way they spread. 

  • Worms exploit security flaws in the OS and software to spread without intervention by the user. 
  • Viruses input their codes in other programs to spread.
  • Fileless malware uses inbuilt tools like PowerShell or takes advantage of bugs in software to remain resident without leaving traces on the hard drive. 
  • Trojan horses trick users to install them by masquerading as a genuine program. 

Email is the most common method of distributing malware, although some don’t require human intervention to spread. According to F-Secure, more than 90% of malware infections are caused by malicious or phishing emails.

Usually, mobile device malware spreads via infected apps from third-party app stores. However, it doesn’t mean that all the apps on official app stores are entirely safe, so always stay alert. 

What is the purpose of malware?

What is malware
(Alamy)

Malware is intended to benefit the creator in one way or the other. Hence, they are involved in severe crimes today. 

Each malware type enables the developer to gain power or uniquely make money.

For example, banking Trojans steals crucial data that the attacker uses to drain the victim’s bank account. Some other types are used to blackmail victims, while others are specifically designed for industrial espionage.

Why do cybercriminals use it?