Malicious software, also called ‘malware’ in short, is a massive threat in the area of digital world and the internet. Malware is created to damage a computer, server or network deliberately. The software infects a user’s system and can gain illegal access to the user’s sensitive data, lock the authorized user’s access to the system or destruct the entire system.
Malware protection can be achieved by using various antivirus and antimalware tools. However, no protection is absolute. Ultimately, it is the combination of protective tools, personal awareness and improved online habits that can only increase your safety and security.
Different kinds of malwares include trojans, worms, viruses, spyware, ransomware, etc. Cybercrooks often use social engineering techniques to spread malware through infected emails, harmful files or links leading to malicious websites.
As the entire world is exposed to malware cyber threats and finding a way out to deal with this menace of malwares, won’t you like to know how to protect yourself and be safe?
Let’s discuss it then.
But before we discuss different malware protection techniques, let’s first understand how the malwares make inroads and infect the system.
How is malware delivered?
Earlier, before the prevalence of the web, malware was spread manually or physically through floppy disks and CD-ROMs. With the popularity of the web, the attacks and approaches of the cybercriminals have also become sophisticated and more advanced.
They apply social engineering methodologies to manipulate the psychology of users, trapping them in their plans.
Sending phishing emails with infected attachments or links to malicious websites are trendy techniques adopted by them.
The attackers send email, and present it with authoritative wording as well as filling curiosity, guilt, fear, and confusion in words to convince the users.
For example, they send deceptive emails saying that you have won a contest and must submit your details (like name, email id, contact, address) to the email id provided by them to claim the prize.
Or, it can say that you need to visit the court to pay some fine immediately.
The user may become curious or nervous about the cases mentioned above, and then he chooses to respond to these emails. This makes way for malware intrusion.
Attackers can target an individual or an organization as a whole, and accordingly chalk out their way of intrusion.
Malware infected flash drives or USB sticks are also used to spread malware (baiting), by leaving them at prominent places and waiting for them to be picked up and plugged in by some curious users.
Another emerging malware attack is the ransomware attack. The attacker locks away a system from further access by its users, encrypts all the files and demands a ransom from them to provide the decryption key or password for unlocking the system.
So, you see there are multiple ways by which malware can spread and attack, and there is no end to it. Each day, every minute the cyber crooks are planning and applying new ways to harass people and damage systems.
Now, the question is how we can fight this menace?
Protection against Malware
Once your device is affected by malware, it can trigger more such invasions. So one must be aware and, make the security of his system or network very powerful to fight against malware. Malware security protection can be undertaken in many ways.
Users must be trained and educated through training programs, awareness seminars, and workshops about the growing threats of malware and how they spread.
Many people get malware installed on their devices unknowingly. Perhaps, they have downloaded a file from any untrusted malicious website or clicked any malicious link.
Downloads like screensavers, toolbars, and torrents are likely suspects. Often advertisements and pop-up notifications also carry malware with them. Hackers wait for the users to click them so that the malware gets installed, infecting the systems.
Users must be alert and decide wisely about their actions. Any wrong step can open the gateway for malware attacks. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or emails, downloading files from unknown resources, clicking on advertisements, etc.
Checking one’s online habit is the first step towards malware protection.
Well-designed and robust antivirus software helps to combat malware threats efficiently. It periodically scans the device for both newly downloaded and previously existing files to check malware presence.
It discerns and warns about malicious websites and the latest threats. And to keep it more effective, it must be updated regularly.
Antimalware software is a program specifically built to fight malware.
It uses three different strategies to detect and protect users from malware attacks. They are:
Signature-based malware detection
This method uses a database containing known malware definitions to scan for malware. It identifies malicious software by comparing a hash of the suspected code with the database of hashes of known malware.
If a file matching with the malware signature is detected, it is marked as potential malware. However, only known malwares can be identified by this method.
Behavior-based malware detection
This method is capable of detecting previously untold or unseen threats by identifying them, depending on their characteristics and behaviors. By this method, an object is assessed based on its intended actions.
It considers an object malicious if it attempts to do some unusual or unauthorized actions. Nowadays, machine learning algorithms also boost up this way of malware detection.
A sandbox is referred to as an isolated computing environment, capable of running untrusted or unknown programs without disrupting the underlying system.
Antimalware using sandboxing technique runs such applications and monitors their output to detect any suspicious behavior.
Once found, the antimalware terminate that program.
Rootkits install themselves as a part of other downloads, backdoor or worm. They prevent the owner of the system from detecting their presence. Rootkits function within or close to the kernel of the operating system (OS).
The problem that occurs with rootkit infected PC is that its OS cannot be trusted further to recognize rootkit. To detect a rootkit virus, you can either perform rootkit scan or behavioral analysis.
Rootkit detection is quite difficult because it has the capability to corrupt the software itself that is intended to find it.
Power down your computer and execute the scan from a reliable, clean system to detect the infection. Rootkit scans also watch out for signatures just the way viruses are detected.
Memory dump analysis allows you to monitor the instructions executing in the memory. Rootkits cannot hide there.
It is a very reliable method of rootkit detection. This method tries to identify rootkit-like behavioral patterns. Data Security Analytics is applied to study any divergence in the regular behavioral pattern on the network.
Targeted scans perform well if you are sure that the system is behaving abnormally. Behavioral analysis alerts the users when any server is under attack.
All these methods are helpful in combating malware attacks. These countermeasures should be (rather must be) implemented by individuals as well as by every organization to bolster their security system.
Organizations and use of antivirus/antimalware softwares
No organization can keep its digital assets secure without antivirus and antimalware softwares. However, it does not mean the more the software, the better would be the protection.
Installing too many antivirus or antimalware softwares can decrease the speed of the system. One must install trusted and reputable antivirus and antimalware softwares only to combat these threats.
The way you select and install these softwares is based on the size of the organization. For example, a small organization with few computers can have the softwares installed individually on each system.
An organization having 10-20 computers can generate a security suite to control the software centrally rather than administering each device separately.
Again, a larger organization with more than 20 computers can implement enterprise-level tools. These tools provide additional security facilities and centrally manage definition updates and other tasks.
Some notable examples of these softwares are:
- Symantec Endpoint Protection for large organizations
- Microsoft Security Essentials (Windows users) for small organizations
- Bitdefender Internet Security
- McAfee and Kaspersky Labs
- Norton Security and Norton Small Business
The malware development methods are flourishing rapidly, and it is highly essential to use protective measures to counter them. The cyber crooks are continually building new exploitation techniques, hence pushing the world into a pool of threats.
Without implementing malware protection methodologies, it will be challenging to protect yourself from cyber attacks. Apart from using antivirus and antimalware softwares which aid in discerning malicious activities and removing them, you should also keep your eyes open and be careful while on the internet.
As said earlier, many people get malware installed on their devices unknowingly.
Avoid clicking on the links in emails from unknown senders, attractive advertisements or other notifications popping on your screen and do not download files from unknown websites.
However, no protection is absolute. It is the combination of protective tools, personal awareness and improved online habits that can increase your safety and security.