The Ultimate Guide to Malware: Bots, Ransomware, Spyware, Trojan Horses, and Viruses
Most of us are aware that the Internet can be a scary place, full of viruses, creepy people, and dangerous hackers. Bots, malware, ransomware, spyware, trojan horses, and viruses…it seems like the bad guys always win in the world of computer hacking. Let’s face it, most of us don’t even fully understand what exactly these are.
Today we change that.
My hope is, by the time you finish this Ultimate Guide to Malware your mind will be at ease when it comes to computer viruses. Many common computer viruses can be easily avoided or cured, so there’s no need to treat them like a scary monster in the closet. The best way to avoid viruses is to be proactive and protect yourself.
Let’s start by understanding the terminology. And, we’re going to start at the top with malware since, really, everything falls under it.
The Ultimate Guide to Malware:
What is Malware?
Simply put, malware is short for “malicious software.” So, it’s any software written with the intent to do harm to either data, devices, or people. Bots, ransomware, spyware, trojan horses, and viruses are all malware.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware, otherwise known as CryptoLocker, is a relatively new type of malware. This is not something that you want to get on your computer. The basic workings of the program literally take your files on your computer for ransom (hence the name).
It will lock you out of the files on your computer and require you to pay a fee to unlock them again. The people who created the ransomware will send you a decryption key in return for money (anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand dollars).
What does ransomware do?
This malware is usually disguised as “file downloaders,” which will advertise faster downloading of files if you download said software. After downloading and running the software, you will find that the files on your computer are locked and you cannot access them. This is particularly concerning for people who store a lot of photos, school work, or important personal files on their computer.
How do you prevent downloading ransomware?
Protecting yourself from this virus is easy. Since you must actively download the file, you can first use your common sense to avoid these scams. Never download any third-party files from a website, as they usually contain a virus. These virus files usually look like they’re out of the early 2000’s, and aren’t too hard to differentiate from a legit file.
The second way to protect yourself is to back up your computer via cloud storage or external hard drive. Many people don’t understand the value in doing this, but you never know when your computer will crash, so you’re better safe than sorry.
Cloud storage can also be accessed from any computer, so if you have a crash, just buy a new computer and import the files you’ve saved.
The third way to protect your computer is by using anti-virus software. I don’t suggest third party anti-virus programs like Norton or McAfee, because they don’t work and are a waste of money. Instead, use Windows Defender, which is a great program. Best of all, it’s free! It’s protected me from tons of viruses and it runs discreetly in the background of your OS, which means no annoying pop-ups or reminders. And, look into adding Malwarebytes Premium (aff). I rarely tout products. But, I’ve personally used this program for the past few years. I actually added it at the advice of a tech consultant. We use it on our home and business devices.
What is spyware?
Spyware is a much more passive type of malware. It’s installed on a computer and collects the owner’s private information.
What does spyware do?
This type of virus is designed to spy on your Internet activity, and can take things like passwords, credit card information, and web surfing habits of the user. It can gain access to your computer’s security settings to allow other people to access your computer.
How do you prevent downloading spyware?
Spyware is often accidentally downloaded by the user, and can pose security risks. This virus is very discreet, and people often don’t know they have spyware on their computer. Luckily, this virus is usually not harmful, and can be fixed relatively easily.
To get spyware off your computer, run regular sweeps with your anti-virus software. I personally recommend weekly sweeps to keep your computer running at optimal performance. Spyware is easy to pick up, but it is also very easy to fix.
What are trojans?
Trojan horses vary in severity, but they have a variety of uses for hackers. In general, a trojan is malware which doesn’t represent itself. It comes disguised as something harmless.
What do trojans do?
Trojans create a backdoor for people or malware to access and exploit your computer. They can also carry spyware and a variety of other things like ransomware. Ransomware and trojans are related in the fact that they are concealed as things that look appealing. They often come disguised as free music, free games, or other advertisements.
Trojans, unlike ransomware, are not always noticeable when running your computer. Nevertheless, it is easy to protect yourself.
How do you prevent downloading a trojan?
The easiest way to protect yourself from trojans is to never pirate music or movies. It’s much more beneficial to pay for them like the law-abiding citizens we are. Also, don’t visit shady websites. If a website is riddled with strange advertisements, leave the website. And most definitely don’t download anything from the site.
Lastly, don’t download anything you’re not familiar with. Don’t download “free pdf readers” or anything of that nature. Doing so puts you at risk for getting a computer virus.
What is adware?
Adware is often not dangerous, but it is annoying to say the least. Adware undermines the security settings to serve you bogus ads for things like weight loss pills, cell phones, and other illegitimate items.
What does adware do?
Adware displays advertisements on your computer, redirects your search requests to advertising websites, and collects marketing-type data about you. The easiest way to tell if you have adware is the redirection of internet traffic through your system.
When you open your web browser, the landing page will look completely different. The area around the address box is usually filled with strange buttons, and if you type in a URL, it will redirect it through some sort of third party search engine.
However, it is simple to get adware off your computer. In fact, you don’t even need to take your computer into a store.
How do you prevent downloading adware?
Adware is usually picked up one of two ways. The first is from downloading freeware or shareware. The second way is by visiting an infected website. If you find you have adware on your computer, you can try removing the adware yourself.
What is a bot?
Bots are an automated software designed by a programmer. Due to their automation, they are very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of applications. However, some are considered malware. A bot is considered malware when it performs a malicious or undesirable function.
They are commonly picked up through web browsers, while searching for security vulnerabilities in computers. Therefore, it is very important to have an anti-virus software running on your computer.
What do bots do?
Bots are used for a variety of functions. They can log “keystrokes,” meaning they can take your passwords, account information, or other important personal information. They can also corrupt files and attack servers. Bots are so inconspicuous that users often don’t realize they have one. After a bot has collected the data it was set out to access, it can report back to its “master” so they can access sensitive information that the bot has picked up.
How do you prevent bots?
Having an anti-virus software that includes Internet protection is a start. But, many bots make it through anti-virus software. Installing a program like Malwarebytes can help find and capture bots and many other forms of malicious malware. I was amazed at what my traditional anti-virus software was missing when I began using it.
What is a worm?
A worm penetrates a computer’s operating system with the intention of spreading harmful code in the computer. Worms are like bots in the sense that they are automated, but worms don’t mine information. Their purpose is to sabotage a computer. Worms are frequently used on the industrial level to take down an entire company’s server.
How do worms work?
Worms are self-replicating, meaning they spread to other computers very effectively. They rely on networks to spread, so commercial computer servers and the like are at risk.
When they reach a computer, they drop their “payload” which can do a variety of things including delete files, gather data, and install a backdoor for people to gain access to. Worms have shut down whole servers in companies, and are very costly for companies who find themselves on the receiving end of a worm infection.
How do you prevent worms?
Since worms access computers through vulnerabilities, it is easy to stop them with a good security program on your computer. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.
The ILOVEYOU worm is a notorious worm that gained access to a lot of computers through email. Users would open an email, and the worm would access the computer just by people opening the malicious email.
It is best to never open an email, or any other document, from someone you don’t know. Caution is the best security when it comes to computer viruses.
The best way to avoid malware is to be proactive and protect yourself. On the Internet, fake ads look like fake ads, which really helps us sift out the legit downloads from the fake. If you’re careful, and use some judgement on the web, your computer will continue to work for a long while.
Want a downloadable version of the Ultimate Guide to Malware: Bots, Ransomware, Spyware, Trojan Horses, and Viruses? It’s available, along with all my other resources, in my Parent Subscriber Area!
Kaleb Nieman is a college student, entrepreneur, and tech geek. He is going into his senior year at the University of North Dakota, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history. Kaleb owns a startup called Brandstorm Marketing, which manages social media and content curation for businesses. He loves technology and gaming, and spends his free time researching tech and gaming on his self-built PC. Upon graduation, Kaleb hopes to take Brandstorm to the next level by making it a large social media management agency located in Peoria, Illinois.