Understanding the Different Types of Malware, Spyware, and Virus Threats and Their Potential Impact On Your Computer and Data was written for Playlouder by a contributing author. Please note that contributing opinions are that of the author. They are not always in strict alignment with my own opinions. –Joe.
Owning a computer comes with a few challenges that many people aren’t aware of until it's too late.
Unless you’re a computer whizz or have been a cyber victim before, it’s easy to dismiss computer threats as just that – threats. But, when one affects your device, it can have catastrophic consequences.
In this article, we’ll tell you the basics of the different types of spyware and virus threats and the effects they could have on your computer and data.
What Are Malware, Spyware, and Viruses?
These are all common and often interchanged terms used to describe threats to your computer. To the average person, they are all the same in a way; they pose one kind of threat or another to your system and the data it holds.
However, they are not the same. Technically, they are all “Malware.” This amalgamates the words “malicious” and “software.” It is used to refer to any piece of software that’s able to harm computers or data without the user’s permission or knowledge.
Hence, both spyware and viruses are forms of malware.
What is Spyware?
Spyware is computer software that gathers information about an organization or a person secretively and behind the scenes, a bit like a real spy.
It is a malicious program that gets into a computer to gather data, which it then sends to a third party. Essentially, it’s designed to access a device, leak data from it, and damage it without the consent of the device owner.
All of this sensitive information is used maliciously for profit. The attackers will use it to sell data, steal money or create false identities. It is one of the most common cyberattack methods, leaving businesses and individuals vulnerable.
Windows devices are the majority of spyware targets, and Apple devices have, at least until relatively recently, been safer. So mac users don't have to worry as much about the error that alerts for spyware on their computer, but it's still worth paying some attention to.
Examples of Spyware
this spyware accesses cameras on devices to record videos and take pictures. There might be many reasons why this is used. This includes espionage, blackmail and monitoring employees. One recent example of this was in Philadelphia when schools used a TheftTrack program to spy on the students by activating their cameras when they were using school-issued laptops at home.
this is a simple software that records everything that’s typed on a device. So, when the user enters a password, credit card number, PIN or some other sensitive data, the software will record it. A lot of keylogger software has a screenshot element too. One recent example of this is RemoteSpy. The scary fact is that this is sold openly in the U.S. despite its sale being banned!
This is software that causes automatic adverts like banners and pop-ups to display on your screen with the idea of generating revenue. Much free software (‘freeware’) will use adware, but it’s not always malicious.
2021 saw a ransomware surge, and it ruined the lives of many people. Ransomware involves hacking into a website or system and taking the files, data, and even the website hostage. Those leading this cyberattack will request payment to release files.
What are the effects of spyware on a computer and its user?
Outside of the obvious data theft issue, there are several other problems associated with spyware. Many of them may even be indicators that your computer has been infected. Here is a list of potential issues.
- Your data could be accessed, e.g., credit card numbers.
- Passwords could be stolen.
- Your keystrokes might be recorded.
- Your emails could be read.
- Your email address book can be accessed.
- You’re more likely to have virus attacks if spyware is installed.
- Your website visits might be tracked.
- The device might be running slower.
- It might take longer for your device to start up.
- Some computer programs might not run as they should, or they might not run at all.
- Your computer can be completely shut down and require a ransom payment to bring it back.
What is a Virus?
As its name suggests, a computer virus infects your computer and, like a virus, spreads to other devices. These self-copying threats are usually designed to damage a device or steal data.
Many people are often confused about how these viruses spread. It actually takes user action for a device to be infected. This might be as simple as opening an infected file.
The virus is often attached to a computer program, the boot part of the hard drive, or data files. It attaches parts of its code to files or replaces them completely with copies of the virus instead.
Examples of Viruses
This is a type of malware that seems ok initially when installed, but it makes use of malicious code to create ways into a computer system. Typically, this will be used to steal data.
A computer worm is a piece of malware that is capable of replicating itself and spreading to other computers using a network. It relies on poor security to target systems to gain access.
File Infector Virus
a file infector virus injects malicious code into critical files that run the operating system or important programs. When the system boots or the program runs, the virus is activated.
A browser hijacker is a type of malware that modifies web browser settings without your permission. It typically alters your browser home page, search preferences, and other settings to redirect traffic and display pop-up ads while browsing.
What are the effects of viruses on a computer and its user?
Here is a list of potential issues related to viruses.
- Damage your programs
- Delete your files
- Refromat your hard drive
- allow access to sensitive information
- flood a network with traffic
- Make it impossible to make changes to your system
And a host of other issues.
How can users protect systems and devices from threats?
There are several protective measures organizations and individuals can use to protect themselves and their devices from threats. These include:
- Installing comprehensive antivirus and antimalware programs and keeping them updated.
- Don’t download or install software from the internet if you are not certain the source is trustworthy.
- Never open email attachments without scanning them.
- Don’t trust ‘cracked’ software. This often contains malware like trojans.
Are Mac computers more protected from malware?
There has been a long association that Mac computers are more secure. Many Apple users even believe that cyber criminals have no way of penetrating these devices. However, it’s not so clear-cut. Both PCs and Mac computers are vulnerable to attacks, and all computer users must take adequate antivirus and antimalware protection.
Are mobile and tablet devices safe?
Like all devices these days, there is a lot of built-in security in smartphones. However, most of these rely on users carefully deciding what they install regarding apps. Having extra security installed is a good idea – this could be a VPN or antivirus software.
For Android, Google has created some great security. Apps are run in a ‘sandbox,’ which means they cannot access anything unless you give them permission to do so. However, this relies on user caution not to give an app access to data unless it needs to have it.
Like Google, Apple has some great security features within its iOS. The App Store is pretty secure as multiple layers of defenses ensure apps are genuine. All in all, there’s less malware and fewer issues. It’s also harder to download apps onto iOS devices in other ways, unlike Android.
Malware is something that we often don’t think about until it’s too late. As we’ve seen, there are numerous different types of threats that everyone, from individuals to large organizations, needs to be aware of. While awareness of threats is essential, training and security must also be implemented to prevent attacks.