Information Security – Malware

Malware, short for “malicious software”, is a term used to describe software that is used for malicious purposes, including theft or destruction of information or other property. The term implies a malicious intent by the designer of the software. Sometimes the term badware is used to describe software that is unintentionally dangerous.

Types of Malware

Malware can come in many different forms. Ask your students what kinds of malware they are familiar with and if they can think of any specific examples in recent history. The following is a brief discussion of some types of malware:

Why people do it

There are many reasons why people create and spread malware. Some do it out of curiosity or as an experiment. For example, in 1988, Robert Morris, a grad student at Cornell who used MIT’s network, released one of the first worms that infected the Internet. Morris said he was using the worm to estimate the size of the Internet, but the results of the worm were far more damaging, and Morris was the first person convicted in the US under the 1986 Fraud and Abuse Act.

Other creators of malware have much darker motivations. Some do it for money or other resources, such as information; others do it for political or criminal reasons; and others do it just to scare people. The following terms are often used to describe the motivations behind the use of malware.

Why malware is so hard to stop 

Malware is always changing. It is a constant cat-and-mouse battle between attackers and everyone who wants to use computing resources. Attackers are constantly coming up with new ways to carry out attacks. Most malware has some level of concealment, which makes it difficult to detect. Infectious malware can spread very quickly, which means that it can cause a lot of damage before it is detected. It can also cost a lot of money to fix the damage.

Another reason why malware is hard to stop is that people are not always aware of the possibilities and do not use good judgment when clicking on links or downloading things from the Internet. There is often a social engineering aspect to malware, and attackers are always finding rather ingenious ways to get people to click on their bad links! The increasing number of devices connecting to the Internet also provides more possibilities for attack. Today, for example, a great majority of people use smartphones and there is a vast array of applications that can be downloaded. People need to use good judgment when choosing to download applications.

Most machines have some kind of anti-virus software that seeks to detect and mitigate the effects of malware. But it is a constant struggle for that kind of software to stay ahead of the new types of malware that are always being created. As soon as one virus or one worm is detected and stopped, another is created.

How to protect against malware 

The most important thing a user can do to protect against malware is to use good judgment when accessing resources. Do not click on links unless you are sure of where they will lead, even links that are attached to e-mails coming from someone you know. The “sender” may have been hacked and may not even be aware of the e-mails being sent from his or her account! Do not download software unless you are sure it is legitimate. Be aware of known malware threats. Check the security of applications before downloading.

There are other measures that can be taken to protect against malware, including anti-malware software and firewalls. Anti-malware software is software that is designed to check a system and check for irregularities and vulnerabilities. As was mentioned above, however, concealment is a huge part of malware, so it is better to avoid getting infected! A firewall is a big part of network security and is used to control the traffic flow, allowing legitimate traffic and disallowing illegitimate traffic. Most machines have some kind of anti-virus or anti-malware software, but it is difficult for software designers to keep up with the constant increase of new types of malware, and with all the opportunities for attackers, we cannot expect the attacks to stop. It is better to use constant vigilance and be aware of the possibilities out there.