Malware is short for “malicious software” that aims to steal or destroy data inside any computer, device, or system (e.g., phones, tablets, laptops, etc.). Malware can enter a device through downloaded files, infected apps, malicious ads, hacked websites, opened email attachments, or any other time you download something to your system.
For example, an unknown source can attach a malware-infected PDF file to an email and send it to you. If you open the file, the malware will activate and infect your computer or phone. If left neglected, it can cause damage to your device or even steal your data.
Most common types of malware
Ransomware is malicious software that uses encryption to disable a target’s access to their data until a ransom is paid. Ransomware is commonly used to target large organizations because they have a lot of valuable data and can afford to pay more. Victims of ransomware often can’t operate at all under the effects of ransomware. And even if they agree to pay, there’s no guarantee their data will be decrypted or won’t get deleted.
A virus is a piece of malicious code that is inserted inside of an application. Once downloaded and run, a virus can spread and reproduce into the network. From here, it can steal personal information or launch DDoS or ransomware attacks.
A Trojan is a malware that disguises itself as useful code or software. It can come in the form of an app, game, patch, or any tool. Once downloaded and installed, a Trojan can take over the device’s system and perform unwanted actions like exporting, modifying, or deleting data. The difference between a Trojan and a virus is that a virus needs the infected app to be running in order to spread and reproduce.
Spyware’s pure intent is to collect information from an infected device. Such data includes credentials, payment information, or any other type of personal information that can later help hackers cash out. Spyware can also download and install other malicious software to its victim’s device.
A keylogger is a very common type of spyware that tracks and records its victim’s keystrokes. The software itself is not purely malicious and has its uses in business and personal cases. But hackers often use keyloggers to fish for people’s logins and passwords for malicious purposes.
Adware is a type of malware that tracks its victim’s online activity to gather information about their browsing habits. This data is put into profiles and later sold to ad agencies and data brokers without the user’s consent. In a way, adware is similar to spyware, but it doesn’t track keystrokes and it can’t download and install software into its victim’s device.
A rootkit is a type of malware that gives hackers remote control to their victim’s device, usually with full administrative privileges. Rootkits are very difficult to detect and can open backdoors to trojans, spyware, or ransomware.
Worms are a type of malware that targets system vulnerabilities. They can gain access and install themselves onto the victim’s device. From there, they allow hackers to steal data or launch DDoS or ransomware attacks.
Tips to prevent malware
Be wary of emails
Don’t open suspicious emails, attachments, or URLs as they can carry viruses. If you’re thinking of opening any links or files, check them on websites like VirusTotal first.
Do your research
Always double-check the validity of a website and the company you’re buying from using services like Scamvoid and TotalVirus. Refrain from visiting shady, outdated websites.
Check your downloads
Don’t download files from unknown or unsecured HTTP pages. Only use HTTPS and check your download sources with online tools like VirusTotal.
Use an antivirus
Use an antivirus program with real-time protection, perform regular scans, and check all files you download for possible malware infections.
Use ad blockers
Tools like CleanWeb and other ad blockers can prevent known malicious ads from loading on your devices.
Use a VPN
Some VPNs offer additional protection by blocking requests to known malicious sites that can contain all sorts of malware.
Keep your systems, apps, and browsers up to date. Malware loves vulnerabilities in systems and apps, especially worms, rootkits, and trojans.
Malware crime stats
According to the FBI Internet Crime Reports, here's how devastating malware, scareware or virus attacks were from 2015 to 2021:
Average losses and victim count
year over year
Malware, scareware or virus attack cases have reached record numbers with 4.3K yearly victims (around 12 victims per day) in 2016.
Victims have reported the highest average financial loss to malware, scareware or virus attacks in 2021 ($6.9K per victim).
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the number of malware cases decreased by 40%, but the average financial loss grew by 473% (from $847 to $4.9K) per victim compared to 2019.
Despite the increasing awareness of online crimes, daily financial losses to malware, scareware or virus attacks have grown around 35% from 2015 ($11.4K per day) to 2021 ($15.3K per day).