The average technology consumer uses the word virus to describe the majority of what can be wrong with a computer. However, a virus is a very specific type of problem and has many cousin problems that go by different names. Malware is the broad category of any software or code that is developed or used for compromising or harming information assets without the owner's informed consent. Malware is short for "malicious software", and has many different types.
This is usually a blanket term to describe computer troubles, but viruses have specific functions. Like their living counterparts, they infect your system and take control over some or all functions. Viruses can destroy data or steal things like credit card information, passwords, and more. Viruses can also relay spam email or coordinate attacks like DDoS.
Like the name suggests, this type of malware "spies" or monitors your movements online, sending information to a central location so that you can be targeted. Spyware can be nearly impossible to remove and can slow down your computer to a useless state through program downloads.
A worm is a virus that replicates itself over a network. They can arrive through email and send a copy to others in your address book disguised as a message from you. Worms are used to deliver viruses, or the worm itself can be a virus, so the terms are nearly interchangeable. They are sneaky and difficult to manage.
Remember the Trojan Horse from Greek mythology class? This type of Trojan gets its name from the same deceptive tactics. Trojans will masquerade as a legitimate program - and may even have legitimate program functions - but beware, there are ulterior motives. Once "inside" your computer, Trojans can delete data, compromise security, relay spam, and do extensive damage to your computer and information.
Ransomware hits multiple pain points: data and your wallet. Ransomware is a type of malware that is downloaded on a computer, and encrypts, or blocks access to, valuable data or programs until a "ransom" is paid. This is extra debilitating because 1. Ransoms are exchanged in Bitcoin (online currency), keeping the hacker untraceable and 2. There is no guarantee that the hacker will make good on the decryption code after the exchange is made. This is a growing problem, as it is estimated that $209 million was paid to ransomware criminals in just the first quarter of 2016.
Phishing is more of a method than actual software download, nevertheless, scams are fallen for every single day. Phishing involves an application, link, or website that impersonates a trustworthy source to garner information. Do not fall for these scams. THE IRS WILL NOT EMAIL OR CALL YOU.
Staying informed on the types of malware can help you better understand and protect your digital information. In the next installment in the hacking series, you can learn how to diagnose a malware infection.