What is the concept of a malware attack? And what would you do to keep your devices safe from it?
Malware is a portmanteau of the words “malicious software” and refers to any malicious code, scripts, or software designed to gain unauthorised access to your data, network, computers, or other IT systems. Malware is a term used to describe any cyberattack that uses malicious code.
Every week, Google reports finding hundreds of malware-infected websites!
Malware comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, with varying structures and behaviours. Computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, adware, rootkits, and other malware forms are popular.
Malware Attacks: 7 Different Forms
The victims are blackmailed in a ransomware attack. The intruder infects the user’s computer with malware that can lock and encrypt files, directories, programmes, apps, servers, or the entire device. To decrypt the data, restore the device, or restart the applications, the attacker demands a ransom from the victim.
An intruder usually employs public key infrastructure (PKI) technology to encrypt data using a cryptographic key. Without a corresponding private key, the data cannot be opened. The hacker will only have a private key to decrypt the data after the victim pays ransom money. (However, the hacker can refuse to provide a key in some cases.) They’ll simply flee with the ransom money, which is sometimes paid in cryptocurrency.)
If the victims do not agree to pay the ransom, the attacker will threaten to release their personal/sensitive data or confidential files. According to Emsisoft, ransomware costs could hit approximately $1.4 billion by 2020.
A special form of malware known as spyware is installed on a victim’s computer for this type of malware attack. Spyware, like ransomware, can read, interpret, encrypt, and delete data. Spyware can also keep track of the user’s behaviour, take screenshots, record their surfing habits, and give all of the information back to the hacker.
Ransomware attacks are included in the phrase “spyware assault.” However, spyware attacks are not used to extort money from the victim. Spyware attacks are often used for spying, gaining access to classified political and military documents, or stealing scientific research data or schematics.
Spyware attacks are often used against businesses to steal information about:
- Trade secrets,
- Technical data,
- Future marketing strategies,
- Key stakeholders, and
- Other types of confidential information.
The spyware author (hacker) can even capture and sell sensitive data from the user’s computer on the dark web.
Credit card numbers, bank account data, passwords, social security numbers, and other valuable information may also be stolen from victims’ computers using spyware. They will use this information to commit identity theft or financial fraud.
Malvertising is a form of malware attack in which malicious code is concealed within seemingly harmless digital advertising. Hackers rent advertising space on legitimate websites and then conceal malware in the advertisements. They could use well-known third-party ad distributors (such as Google Adwords, Zedo, AdButler, AdPlugg, Propeller Advertising, and so on) or contact websites directly and place ads themselves.
The advertising may resemble normal product/service advertisements or show something that entices the victims to click on the ad right away.
Here are a few examples of such advertisements:
- An unbelievable deal or discount on a product,
- Gossip news article,
- “Work from home” jobs with a big salary,
- Some interesting online games,
- Dangerous virus infections.
When people click on these advertisements, malware is installed on their computers. Drive-by malware is concealed in some of the pre-click malvertising. Even if a victim does not click on the ads on an infected website, the malware is downloaded to their computer.
When users visit a spammy website, antivirus software normally alarms them. However, since malvertisements are often posted on legitimate websites, they will not alert you in this case.
In most cases, malware is only installed on a user’s computer after they click on a malicious advertisement. Post-click malvertisements are a form of malvertisement that occurs after a user clicks on a connection. Hackers have now created pre-click malvertisements, which download malware as soon as the user visits a spammy website’s landing page. In other words, malware will infect your computer without your knowledge or consent.
Here’s an example of a Microsoft game-related malvertising attack. The following fake virus alert popup was shared by a Microsoft Community forums poster (bhringer) (see below). A potentially unwanted application (PUA) will be downloaded onto users’ devices when they clicked on the given connection.
A man-in-the-browser (MitM) attack is a dangerous thing to deal with. The attacker inserts a trojan horse into web browsers via plugins, scripts, or browser helper artefacts in this form of malware assault (BHO). A man-in-the-browser trojan (MitB trojan) infects users’ web browsers (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome) in order to intercept interactions between users and the websites they visit.
MitB attacks are frequently used against financial institutions, especially banking websites. However, it can happen on any website, including ecommerce sites, energy companies, accounting firms, and government websites.
A MitB trojan can alter, add, and delete fields on forms, as well as steal data entered by website visitors. Not only that, but the malware may also alter the website’s appearance to deceive the victims. MitB trojans are so strong that they can also change the server’s (website’s) responses and confirmation receipts. They have the ability to delete the entire transaction from the victim’s records before he or she returns to the website!
Consider the following scenario. Let’s say you go to your bank’s website and make a $100 transfer to your spouse’s account. A MitB trojan, on the other hand, raises the amount to $10,000 and inserts the attacker’s bank account number into the recipient’s area. You are unaware of the adjustment and continue with the transaction. The malware alters the bank’s confirmation receipt and (or confirmation message) to display the information you intended ($100 in your spouse’s account)! When you log into your bank account later, you note a strange $10,000 debit entry on your bank statement!
Even the TLS protocol, two-factor authentication (2FA), and multi-factor authentication cannot protect against MitB attacks. Users believe they are dealing with a legitimate website, and the transaction is proceeding as planned. To complete the transaction, they have the OTP, hidden pins, or biometrics.
The fact that this form of malware attack is difficult to detect makes it especially dangerous. Servers (websites) are unable to detect them because transection is carried out by a legitimate user without the need for any authentication. (Therefore, there’s nothing to be suspicious about in the eyes of the server.) As a result, MitB attacks are among the most dangerous malware threats.
A botnet is a set of robots or zombies that form a network (compromised internet- or network-connected devices). Hackers create a special malware known as botnet trojan for this form of malware attack, which can also be combined with viruses and worms. To build an army of infected devices, the malware creator, also known as botmaster or bot herder, infects a large number of IoT devices (computers, cell phones, cameras, Wi-Fi routers, laptops, internet-connected televisions, printers, and so on) with botnet malware.
Botnets can be used for a wide range of cybercrimes, including:
- Deploying server-side attacks like DDoS attacks and brute force attacks,
- Stealing sensitive data,
- Generating fake web traffic,
- Spreading malware, and
- Mining cryptocurrencies.
Infected computers obey the attacker’s commands and carry out the cyberattack as instructed. The device’s owner is totally unaware that their device is part of a botnet. PKI is used by some botmasters to encrypt malware, orders, and botnet communication. That means that without a cryptographic key, no one can access the botnet, read the commands, or hijack it.
Via a master machine known as the C&C server, a botmaster interacts with the infected system. Botnet C&C servers have increased by 71.5 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to Spamhaus Malware Labs.
A botnet can also use a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, which is a more sophisticated networking technique. This eliminates the need for a central server for bot communication. Since there is no central C&C server, cybersecurity practitioners have a difficult time monitoring the contact chain. Even if some infected bots are removed from the network, all other bots continue to interact with one another, allowing the botnet to thrive.
Exploit Kit Attacks
An exploit kit is a tool for finding and exploiting software or programme flaws. A vulnerability is a defect in software or an application, such as an error or bug, that hackers can exploit to inject malware into a target’s system. An exploit kit is a package of tools that can search the systems of a linked host, identify vulnerabilities, and deliver a payload.
Exploit kits are concealed on fake websites or websites with poor security postures by hackers. When you visit a site that has been hacked, the package will guide you to another landing page where the exploit code will be inserted. It will begin scanning your computer, browsers, apps, and applications for vulnerabilities (Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe, Java, Runtime Environment, Flash Player, and so on). If it detects any, the malware will be installed in the vulnerable software.
The exploit attack will be stopped if all of the components are modified and patched to the new versions. This whole process happens invisibly in the background, so you won’t even realise it.
Exploit kits are simple to use, and even someone with no programming background can use them. Exploit kits are available for rent as a SaaS commodity on hacker marketplaces and the dark web.
Please bear in mind that the only way to avoid being victimised by an exploit kit is to keep all of your apps and applications up to date. Often, make sure your workers are aware of the dangers of clicking on unknown links or commercials.
Backdoor Malware Attacks
A backdoor is a method of gaining access to systems and software from the back end without being detected. However, administrative backdoors are designed into several systems, so this isn’t always an assault. In the case of a backdoor malware attack, however, it’s certainly bad news.
This type of malware is used to target a wide range of IT systems, including web servers and applications. In a backdoor malware attack, a hacker looks for and exploits security flaws in order to instal malware that allows them to gain unauthorised access. The following are some examples of possible security flaws:
- Outdated plugins, themes, or software.
- Unprotected input fields.
- Leaky or weakly protected database.
Backdoor trojans can steal sensitive information and infect a target’s device or website with exploit kits, adware, viruses, or even redirect links. Since backdoor malware attacks take place in the background, the target’s device owners are often unaware of what’s going on. Since cybercriminals often mask backdoor shell files or encrypt their code, this is by design.
Small companies are the most vulnerable to backdoor attacks because they typically lack the financial resources to invest in website/app protection or are simply uninformed about cyber threats. In 2019, Malwarebytes discovered 672,495 instances of backdoor malware being used against companies. This reflects a 14 percent improvement over their backdoor malware detections in 2018.
The good news is that you can secure your website/app even if you don’t have access to costly protection tools as a small business owner.
First and foremost, make sure that all of your website/app components are up to date. There are also several free, charged, and freemium security products on the market (such as firewalls, malware scanners, and server-side PHP scanners). Inputs should also be validated and sanitised.
What’s the Purpose of a Malware Attack?
Malware is often used by hackers for the following purposes:
- Taking, encrypting, and erasing confidential information (such as personally identifiable information, financial records, medical information, and trade secrets).
- Users’ behaviours and keystrokes are monitored and recorded.
- Financial fraud and identity theft are carried out.
- Unauthorized access to users’ laptops, social media pages, email clients, and other services
- To spread malware, infecting other connected computers, devices, browsers, and applications.
- Shutting down servers and other devices to block or halt legal users’ access to services.
- Taking data from the files of websites.
- Infecting websites and advertising in order to distribute malware to the computers of website users.
The Role of Social Engineering & Phishing in a Malware Attack
Social engineering is a successful means of persuading unwitting users to click on suspicious links and emails. That’s because social engineering is all about persuading people to do what they don’t want to do. This sometimes leads to them doing things they would never do otherwise, such as providing account information or opening infected files.
Social engineering attacks have two primary purposes:
- To convince people to instal malware-infected apps or applications.
- To persuade people to share personal information such as passwords, social security numbers, and credit card numbers, among other things.
Phishing emails, which are a simple way for hackers to send malware to their targets, are often used in social engineering. Malware is often disguised as apparently innocuous Microsoft Office files. Since cybercriminals customise messages to their targets to make them more persuasive, certain types of phishing attacks (such as spear phishing and SEO fraud) can be very successful.
Consider the three scenarios below to see how social engineering attacks can be used to distribute malware.
Example 1: An intruder can initiate a social media conversation with you. They’ll then send you an infected video or image file after they’ve earned your trust. Malware is downloaded into your device when you open the video/image.
Example 2: In this scenario, a hacker might send you a phishing email that looks like it’s coming from a legit company. An innocent-looking transection receipt, media file, PDF document, or even free software is included in the email. However, you are unaware that you have just downloaded a trojan horse or computer virus into your laptop when you download it.
Example 3: Let’s assume you receive an SMS phishing message (smishing) that appears to be from a reputable organisation. The text contains a link to a special offer or discount on a product. However, clicking on this link to get the discount will take you to a spammy website. This is where drive-by malware instals itself on your phone.
The malware gives the attackers access to the victim’s computer, allowing them to steal data, launch ransomware attacks, or use the computer to launch botnet attacks. You should be cautious when uploading files from the internet and run them via antimalware software before doing so.
Wrapping Up on the Different Types of Malware Attacks
According to Statista, 9.9 billion malware attacks were carried out in 2019. Such a large number demonstrates that malware attacks can affect any system, website, or organisation.
Here are some steps you should take to protect yourself and your company from various forms of malware attacks:
- Implement a multi-layered protection strategy.
- Antivirus and anti-malware applications can be included (behavior- and signature-based security software for advanced malware detection).
- Install firewalls that will warn you if you visit a malicious website or if anything unusual is downloaded into your device.
- Keep an eye on traffic records for any suspicious activity.
- To protect yourself and your recipients from phishing emails, use email filters, DKIM, SPF, DMARC, and email signing certificates.
- Make sure that all of your programmes and apps are patched and up to date, and that you’re using the most recent versions.
That isn’t enough, though. When browsing the web or downloading files from the internet, you must be careful. Cyber security training will help in this situation.
To delete intrusive advertisements, pop-ups, and malware from your browser, follow these Google Chrome Support tips.
If you run a small business, you can read this article on cybersecurity for small businesses. It provides recommendations on how to protect the business from ransomware attacks and other cyber-threats.