Malware: how to recognize and protect yourself?

Malware: how to recognize and protect yourself?
Picture: Faithiecannoise | Dreamstime
Content Share

We hear about the dangers of the Internet all the time. And while awareness of this problem is growing, criminals are on the alert.

They are constantly coming up with new ways to carry out illegal activities on victims’ computers, steal confidential information, or cause other harm. Malware is one of them. In this article, we will discuss what they are, how they appeared and how to protect yourself from them.

What is malware?

Malware is an abbreviation of two English words malicious software. It describes any software developed by cybercriminals, otherwise known as hackers, to steal data, damage or disable computers and their systems, networks and mobile devices.
The Internet is the greatest invention of mankind
The Internet is the greatest invention of mankind

These can include viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, adware, and ransomware. Malicious programs can be used to:

  • theft of credit card data or other financial data;
  • carrying out a denial of service attack, or DoS, on other networks;
  • infecting computers and using them to mine cryptocurrencies.

Therefore, malware can, one way or another, affect all computer users.

How and when did malware appear?

Malware has been a threat to people and organizations since the early 1970s. The Creeper virus was found on the ARPANET, a US military computer network that is considered the forerunner of the modern Internet.

Picture: Andrii Yalanskyi | Dreamstime

The malware was designed for the then popular Tenex operating system, which could be accessed offline via a modem and copied itself to a remote system. Since then, computers have been attacked by a wide variety of malware, the purpose of which is to cause as much disruption and damage as possible.

Types of malware

One way to protect your data and devices from malware is to get to know it better. So, let’s take a closer look at the main types of malware.


The virus attaches itself to a document or file that supports macros for executing code and spreading from one computer to another. Once downloaded, the malware does not run until the file is opened and used. Viruses are designed to disrupt the functioning of the system and can cause serious problems and data loss.

Phishing – they also catch here, but not fish
Phishing – they also catch here, but not fish


Worms multiply rapidly and spread to any device on the network. Unlike viruses, they spread without underlying applications. The worm infects a device through a downloaded file or a network connection. It can also cause serious device malfunction and data loss.

Trojan horses

Trojan horses, or trojans, disguise themselves as useful software applications. However, once downloaded, they can access sensitive data and modify, block, or delete it. This may slow down the performance of the device. Unlike viruses and worms, Trojan horses are not designed to reproduce themselves.


Spyware secretly works on your computer. Instead of simply disabling the device, they direct the criminal to sensitive information and can provide remote access to critical information such as financial data. Some spyware records keystrokes to reveal passwords and personal information.

Picture: Faithiecannoise | Dreamstime

Advertising programs

Adware is designed to collect computer usage data and display relevant advertisements. Although they are not always dangerous, they can cause systemic problems in some cases. Adware can redirect you to unsafe browsers and even hide Trojan horses or spyware. In addition, a large number of ads can significantly slow down the system.


The ransomware gains access to sensitive information, encrypts it so that the user cannot access it, and then demands a monetary payment for the data. Most often, such malware is part of a phishing scam.

Caesar’s cipher on guard of IT security
Caesar’s cipher on guard of IT security

They are usually loaded when you click on a hidden link.

Typically, malware infiltrates a computer without the user’s knowledge by exploiting software vulnerabilities. Therefore, software should be updated regularly to reduce the risk of such threats.

How to recognize malware?

Malware can be identified by signs such as:

  1. Slow down your computer. One of the side effects of malware is slowing down the operating system (OS), both when browsing the Internet and when using local applications. A computer fan running at full blast may also indicate that someone else is using system resources. This happens when a computer connects to a network of bots (infected computers) and is used to carry out DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, send spam, or mine cryptocurrencies.
  2. Annoying ads appearing on the screen. They are associated with adware. Pop-ups often hide other invisible threats. So if you see an ad telling you that you’ve won a prize, don’t click on it – it could be very expensive.
  3. Change browser settings. A change in the browser’s home page, a new toolbar, extensions or plugins can give out malware. Although the reasons for this may vary, it usually means that you clicked on a pop-up window and downloaded unwanted software.
  4. System failures. They can manifest as a computer freeze or a blue screen of death, otherwise known as a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). The latter occurs in the Windows operating system after a “fatal” error.
  5. An antivirus program that has stopped working and you can’t turn it back on. It can be disabled by malware that infiltrates your computer, preventing you from protecting yourself.
  6. Wasted disk space. This may be caused by malware hiding on your hard drive.
  7. Increased system activity. For example, a Trojan that enters a computer contacts the attacker’s command and control (C&C) server to download a secondary infection, usually a ransomware. This can cause a spike in system activity. Robot nets, spyware, and any other threats that require communication with C&C servers have the same effect.
  8. Losing access to files or the entire computer. This symptom betrays the presence of ransomware. Hackers make themselves known by leaving a note on the desktop or changing the background to a ransom note. This usually indicates that the data has been encrypted and a ransom is required to decrypt it.
Picture: Stokkete | Dreamstime

However, malware is not always obvious. Some of them can hide deep inside the computer and carry out illegal activities unnoticed. Therefore, their detection requires reliable cybersecurity software.

How can you protect yourself from malware?

There are several ways to protect against malware.

Darknet – on the dark side of the Internet
Darknet – on the dark side of the Internet

For this:

  1. Pay attention to the site’s domain. If it looks suspicious (for example, grammatical errors, repeated or missing letters, etc.), it is better not to visit the site.
  2. Use strong passwords with multi-factor authentication.
  3. Do not open email attachments from unknown senders.
  4. Don’t click on pop-ups while browsing the web.
  5. Do not click on unfamiliar, unverified links in emails, texts, and social media messages.
  6. Do not download software from untrusted sites or equivalent file transfer networks.
  7. Use official apps from Google Play and the Apple App Store. Also check ratings and reviews before installing any software.
  8. Download and install antivirus software that actively scans and blocks various threats from entering your device.
  9. Back up your data regularly to avoid losing important files.
  10. Make sure your operating system, browser and plugins are up to date.
  11. Remove all unused applications.

By following these tips, you can avoid a wide range of malware damage.