Preparing Yourself for a Malware Epidemic

Malicious software, better known as “malware,” describes a broad category of hostile software that is used to disrupt computer operations, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. In this three-part blog series, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of malware. We’ll cover some of the topics found within our in-depth white paper “How Strong is Your Malware Testing?” and give you more details about how you can better prepare for a malware attack.

The number of computers infected with some form of malware is reaching epidemic proportions. According to the PandaLabs Annual Report for 2012 by Panda Security, “approximately 27,000,000 new strains of malware were created in 2012, 74,000 every day.” Trojans accounted for most of the new malware strains with nearly 77% of the total, worms accounted for another 11%, and viruses rounded out the top three with about 10% of the total. The report also noted that the proportion of infected computers worldwide was 32% in 2012.

Malware programmers are constantly looking for new ways to compromise your security; understanding the types of malware and the ways they spread can help you identify a potential security threat before it can damage your system. Malware comes in a variety of forms, each with a unique way of compromising your system.

Some common types of malware are:

  • Adware
  • Keyloggers
  • Ransomware
  • Rootkits
  • Spyware
  • Trojan Horses
  • Viruses
  • Worms

Malware can exploit security defects in operating systems, applications, browsers, browser plug-ins and other types of software. It can also take advantage of insecure designs such as older email systems that would automatically open HTML email containing malicious JavaScript code. Over-privileged users and over-privileged code also allows greater opportunity for malware to subvert computer systems.

There are several fundamental ways that malware spreads:

  • File servers, such as those based on common Internet file system (CIFS) and network file system (NFS), can let malware spread rapidly as users access and download infected files
  • File-sharing software can allow malware to copy itself onto removable media and then on to computer systems
  • Peer to peer (P2P) file sharing can introduce malware by sharing files as seemingly harmless as music or pictures
  • Email attachments containing malicious code can be opened—and therefore executed—by unwary users. They may also be forwarded to other users, helping the malware spread even further
  • Remotely exploitable vulnerabilities allow hackers to access systems across great geographic distances with little or no need for involvement from the computer user

Knowing what types of malware exist and how they spread is the first step toward readiness for a malware attack. In our next blog, we’ll help you further prepare by discussing five questions that every network manager should ask when testing for malware.

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