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What is Malware?
8/7/2023 - Brian O'Neill

Cybercriminals use diverse methods to attack, infiltrate and compromise our systems and devices. The motivations for launching these attacks also vary, with end-goals ranging from lucrative data exfiltration to a simple desire for infamy across the digital world.

When we take a step back from the specific details and circumstances attached to any given cyberattack, we can acknowledge that they share one common theme. In one way or another, the majority of these attacks employ malicious software – “Malware” for short – to achieve their goals.

Malware transparent on phone

The term Malware broadly labels a category of software which is developed with the explicit intention of exploiting systems, networks and/or valuable data. In much the same way lawful organizations depend on the persistent evolution and improvement of legitimate applications and tools to create new value in a digital space, cybercriminals largely rely on the innovation and expansion of Malware to efficiently breach modern systems and networks.

What are Examples of Malware, and How is it Spread?

Malware can be broken down into a few major categories, all of which contain distinct sub-categories of their own. Malware is most often spread through the dissemination of infected content via spam emails and other common internet communication mediums, and it is typically hidden within compromised files, URLs, applications, and devices.

Perhaps the oldest and most widely understood category of malware is Viruses. These programs replicate themselves throughout a system once their host (typically a file or URL) is opened and executed, and they serve myriad purposes for cybercriminals attacking a target system.

Another major category of malware is Worms. In a similar way to Viruses, Worms self-replicate and move rapidly through a system, consuming valuable resources and damaging important content along the way. They differ from Viruses in that they do not require an initial executable host to begin replicating and spreading their contents. This trait makes them a particularly dangerous and unpredictable form of malware.

Any malware which is designed to deny an individual user or organization’s access to internal data in exchange for monetary compensation is considered Ransomware. When malware is designed to covertly enter a system and perform surveillance activities, it is considered Spyware. In addition, malware intended to forcibly advertise third-party content on a device is called Adware.

Devices compromised by Viruses, Worms, and other malware programs can themselves become weaponized as a form of malware called Botnets. These groups of compromised devices are typically controlled by a single threat actor and used to launch distributed cyberattacks against larger networks or groups of individual users.

How can Malware Threats be Detected and Mitigated?

Preventing malware from infiltrating a system begins with establishing a strong perimeter defense around a network. This generally involves deploying a strong firewall, setting up forward and reverse proxies at key network chokepoints, and training users to avoid accessing malicious files and links which may have been shared with them via email or other common communication methods.

When malware breaches a network’s perimeter, efficient compartmentalization of internal resources coupled with multiple redundant security policies helps prevent the spread of that malware internally. Latent malware running on a device (or network of devices) can be detected by using commercial network monitoring products or by logging and reporting noticeable dips in system performance (latent malware typically consumes a considerable volume of network/system resources and thus slows down other applications and tools).

Detecting Malware with Cloudmersive

The Cloudmersive Virus Scan API references a continuously updated list of more than 17 million virus and malware signatures, and it can be deployed to detect malware embedded within files and URLs as those hosts attempt to infiltrate a system or network.

Basic and Advanced versions of the Virus Scan API can be deployed flexibly as low-code solutions. The advanced version of this API, which offers 360-degree protection against viruses, malware, and non-malware content threats (including executables, invalid files, scripts, password-protected files, macros, and more), can be deployed in no-code product form at the network edge and as an in-storage scanning solution for popular cloud products including AWS S3, Azure Blob, SharePoint Site Drive and Google Cloud Storage.

For more information on how the Cloudmersive Virus Scan API can help protect your network and storage systems against malware threats, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our sales team.

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