What is malware?
Malware describes any type of malicious software which can infect all devices with computing capabilities and can spread in various ways. Some types of malware include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, adware, and ransomware, among others.
One of the most common methods used by cybercriminals to spread malware is phishing attacks. Typically phishing attempts are conducted through email where cybercriminals will impersonate senior executives, or an employee‘s peers in an attempt to trick users into clicking a malicious link, or downloading a malicious file that on the surface appear legitimate. Once a malicious link or file is clicked, email-borne malware can spread quickly within an organizaiton, hijacking mission critical systems or sensitive information. Understanding how malware works and how to identify it is only the first step to combating this threat. Today’s organizations also need cybersecurity software and protocols to block email-borne malware from ever getting to a user’s inbox.
What does malware do?
Malware, short for malicious software, is a harmful file or code, that infiltrates, infects, steals, or damages computer systems without the user’s knowledge or consent. Once access is gained by a cybercriminal they can conduct any number of malicious behaviors, typically to gain access to sensitive assets for their own financial gain.
The intent of malware can vary depending on the specific type of malware, though it usually includes some of the following:
- Steal sensitive data, such as login credentials, credit card information, or other personal or business information.
- Take control over a system, so attackers can use it for malicious purposes, such as launching a cyber attack or spreading and infecting other systems with malware.
- Gather confidential information by investigating the infected user’s local network.
- Disrupt systems by deleting files, making whole systems dysfunctional, or causing other forms of damage.
Types of malware
Some of the most common types of malware include:
- Viruses - A virus is a type of malware that infects a computer by attaching itself to a program or file and replicating itself. Viruses can cause damage to files, programs, and even hardware components.
- Worms - Worms are self-replicating malware that can spread through networks and cause significant damage to computer systems. They can spread rapidly and cause widespread disruption.
- Trojans - A Trojan is a type of malware that disguises itself as a legitimate program or file to gain access to a computer system. Once a Trojan has infiltrated a computer, it can steal data, install additional malware, and take control of the system.
- Spyware - Spyware is a type of malware that is designed to collect information from a computer system without the user's knowledge or consent. This information can include sensitive data like login credentials, financial information, and personal details.
- Adware - Adware is a type of malware that displays unwanted ads or pop-ups on a user's computer. It can slow down a computer system and make it difficult to use.
How does malware work?
Malware works by exploiting vulnerabilities in computer systems. It can enter a system through email attachments, software downloads, or infected websites. Once it has infiltrated a system, malware can cause damage by deleting files, stealing data, or taking control over a computer system or network.
In many cases, malware tries to maintain its presence on the system by installing itself in various locations, such as system files, registries, or start-up folders – making it even harder to detect and remove.
Malware can cause a lot of damage to both systems and the data they contain. While financial loss is often the upfront impact of successful cyberattacks, reputational damage to a brand can have an even bigger impact long term. Luckily the cybersecurity industry and allies have been fighting back against malware and cybercriminals for years and there are robust solutions out there that can help prevent malware. The latest State of Email Security Report acts as a guide to help users fully understand the latest trends when it comes to email-borne malware.
Stop malware with Mimecast
Mimecast is here to help you work protected by providing an all-in-one solution for managing email security, archiving and continuity. As a cloud-based subscription service, Mimecast is easy and affordable to implement, with no hardware or software to purchase and no ongoing maintenance to provide. Mimecast services can be easily managed via a central administrative console, eliminating the cost and complexity of traditional email security solutions.
Mimecast security services use sophisticated detection engines and the latest threat intelligence to stop malware, spam, viruses and other threats before they reach the email gateway. Mimecast's technology provides:
- Advanced spam filters, stopping 99% of spam with 0.0001% false positives.
- Content control and data leak prevention.
- Secure messaging technology that lets employees share sensitive information without needing encryption technology.
- A service to send large files, up to 2 GB, from within an employee's mailbox, eliminating the need to use consumer grade, non-secure file sharing services.
Stopping malware in targeted attacks
Cyber phishing and spear phishing represent some of the most dangerous threats to corporate security, often using websites infected with malware to steal sensitive information from employees. Mimecast defends against these phishing virus attacks and other advanced threats with the suite of services called Targeted Threat Protection. Mimecast scans links in all incoming email to identify potentially dangerous URLs and prevent users from accessing them. Mimecast also sandboxes suspicious attachments or rewrites them to a safe format. And to prevent impersonation fraud, Mimecast scans the header and content of all email to search for signs that indicate a potentially fraudulent message.
Mimecast also provides tools to increase phishing awareness among users, helping them to better spot potentially dangerous messages.
Learn more about stopping malware and phishing mail attacks with Mimecast.
Combating malware is a constant struggle
As companies today rely on email more than ever, hackers are easily able to use email to spread malware, launch targeted phishing scams and commit impersonation fraud.
Defending against malware must be a constant pursuit – hackers are continually refining malware and cyber phishing attacks to get around corporate security. With email-borne threats representing more than 90% of all sophisticated cyber attacks, it's critical that organizations maintain robust technology to identify and mitigate malware in all its forms.
The perfect anti-malware technology must be easy to implement, manage and maintain, in order to avoid adding more burden to under-resourced IT teams. And because the stakes are so high, the right malware defense must also be incredibly effective. That's why, when choosing technology to defend against malware, spear-phishing and other phishing email scams, more companies around the world are turning to Mimecast.
Learn more about malware
What is the difference between malware and ransomware?
Malware refers to any kind of malicious software while ransomware is a specific, popular type of malware. Cybercriminals target organizations of all sizes with ransomware and successful ransomware attacks will typically hijack systems or sensitive data until a sum on money (ransom) is paid.
Learn how to tell the difference between malware and ransomware in this guide on Malware vs Ransomware.
What is the difference between malware and a virus?
These two terms are often used interchangeably. However, there’s a big difference – “malware” is a head term for any malicious software, and viruses are a specific type of malware.
Which devices can be affected by malware?
Malware can infect any device with computing capabilities – from computers, tablets, smartphones to servers, IoT devices, and smart appliances.
Do mobile devices get malware?
Yes. Mobile devices get malware and it’s not unusual – there is a wide variety of malicious software specifically designed to infect mobile devices.
Mobile devices in general aren’t as secure as computers. The same security measures that companies use for workstations and servers usually aren’t in place for mobile devices. Because of this, mobile devices may not be protected by things like firewalls, encryption, or antivirus software.
How does malware infect computer systems?
The most common ways in which malware can penetrate your system are email and the Internet.
Malware can access your computer and other devices the moment you are connected to the Internet, e.g. when you browse online and land on a hacked website, or when you are viewing a legitimate website that is showing malicious ads. Other ways your system could get infected is by downloading infected files, installing programs or apps from unfamiliar or unverified providers, or when you open a malicious email attachment.
Staying vigilant and looking out for common red flags, as well as having robust security solutions in place will help minimize the risk of human error and eventually prevent malware from getting on your devices in the first place.
How to detect and prevent malware?
To protect an organization and its users against malware, it’s critical to employ technology that can detect malware as well as solutions to mitigate the effects of a successful attack. Additionally, educating and training your employees through security awareness training is one of the best investments alongside employing solid technology.
How to protect against malware?
There are numerous ways to protect against malware. A common method is to implement email security and other cybersecurity software which block malware from getting into an organization, coupled with a security awareness training program to help improve employee cyber awareness, enabling them identify stray cyberattacks that get through an organization’s initial defenses.
Understand how to protect your organization from malware with this guide on Malware Protection.