Malware is short for “malicious software”. It’s software that sneaks into your computer to compromise functions, steal data, threaten, or cause other harm.
It comes in many shapes and forms—all with different methods, goals, and potential. So here are some of the most common types, and the harm they can cause.
Short for “advertising-supported software”, adware (shockingly) delivers ads. This usually takes place in the form of pop-ups. Often, if you download “free” versions of software, they come bundled with adware. While adware is not terribly harmful, it often comes with spyware—which can be a big problem.
This form of malware holds a computer system captive, while demanding ransom. Really. The malware restricts user access by encrypting files or locking down the system and displaying messages that try and force users to pay to get their access back. Ransomware is usually spread by clicking a mysterious link or downloading an unknown file.
Rootkits + Remote Access Tools (RATs)
Rootkits are designed to remotely access or control a computer without being detected by the user—or the security program. From there, they can steal your information, delete files, modify system configurations, and install other forms of malware. You can prevent rootkits from attacking your system by regularly patching software vulnerabilities and updating your antivirus software.
Exactly as it sounds, spyware spies on your activity without you knowing. This includes activity monitoring, collecting keystrokes, data harvesting (yes, like account information and financial data), and more. It can also change your security settings to exploit software vulnerabilities.
Like the Trojan horse, these disguise themselves as normal programs and trick you into installing them. Then, they give malicious parties remote access—where they can then steal your data, install more malware, modify files, and more.
Viruses + Worms
By now you probably understand malware is not creatively named. Viruses spread to other computers by coping themselves and attaching themselves to various other programs. These can be used to steal information, harm networks, steal money, and more.
Worms exploit operating system vulnerabilities and spread to other computers and devices. They harm your network by consuming bandwidth and overloading your web servers, and are often responsible for the spam messages that see, to be sent from your email or social media accounts