What is 'Malware'

Malware is a software designed to allow an outside party access to a computer without the knowledge of the computer owner. A type of malicious cyber activity, malware cost the U.S. economy somewhere between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016 in outright theft of proprietary or sensitive data, intellectual property, the resulting ransom, and from lost productivity, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors. The wide range of the damage estimate should be noted; given the nature of cybercrime and malware, it is often hard to detect and may not be detected until many years after it does its damage, if ever. Malware and other cyber-attack methods lead corporations and individuals to spend billions of dollars on cybersecurity per year. A 2016 estimate has such spending by businesses alone to exceed $100 billion by 2020. Malware is a portmanteau of “malicious” and “software.”

Breaking Down 'Malware'

Malware refers to a category of software designed specifically to obtain access to a computer without the knowledge of the owner of the system. It is thus differentiated based on the intent of the creator.

Malware comes in a variety of forms, with the most well-known type called a virus. Other types of malware include Trojans, bots, spyware, and ransomware. Viruses and worms make copies of themselves and attempt to infect other computers; spyware seeks to capture and transmit sensitive information; and ransomware locks out the computer owner from the device until money in the form of Bitcoin is paid.

Malware: Most Common Method

The most common way that malware is able to infect a computer is through file downloads. A computer user may open an email attachment thinking that it is from a trusted source, only to download a malware file instead. Malware may also be downloaded from websites if a user clicks on a link, or by sharing files with outside parties, such as through a peer-to-peer (P2P) network. The malware may be an executable file, meaning that it won’t be activated until it is opened on a computer. To increase the odds of the file being activated, malware designers may disguise the file as being something benign.

Malware is most commonly created in order to make money. One way this is done is by stealing information found on a computer, such as credit card information or other sensitive or confidential material. The malware creators may also ransom the information stolen by demanding payment in exchange for not making the information public, or, if the software takes control of a computer, for returning access to the owner. Malware creators may sell the information to third-parties rather than try to collect money from the owners of infected computers directly.

Malware: Increasing Threats via Software

The rise in the number of devices relying on software – from cell phones and computers, to cars and televisions – has increased the threat posed by malware. The emergence of the “internet of things”, in which computerized devices including everyday objects, are connected to the internet, means that outside parties can use malware to gain access to sensitive information by first attacking the weakest link in the security chain. Devices that were once not computerized, such as refrigerators, are turned into smart devices by connecting them to the internet, but with software not designed with security in mind.

Protecting computers from malware is a multibillion-dollar industry. Individuals and businesses seeking protection from malware can purchase software that blocks known threats. Corporate information technology (IT) departments may limit the computer administrative rights of employees, making it more difficult for them to accidentally download programs that may be harmful. While protective software can help reduce threats, educating employees on how to recognize ways that malware may infect a computer is also important. For example, educating employees on how to recognize potentially harmful website links or suspicious download files from unknown email senders can reduce the threat of malware.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Paper Wallet

    A paper wallet is an offline mechanism for storing Bitcoins. ...
  2. Supply Chain Attack

    A supply chain attack is a cyberattack that attempts to inflict ...
  3. Extortion

    Extortion is the wrongful use of actual or threatened force, ...
  4. Botnet

    A botnet is a network of internet-connected devices that have ...
  5. Cloud Computing

    Cloud computing is a model for delivering information technology ...
  6. Banker Trojan

    A Banker Trojan is a malicious computer program designed to gain ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Nokia Study: Smartphone Malware Spiked 400% in '16

    Nokia saw a 400% increase in malware on smartphones with Android devices still the main target.
  2. Tech

    Cryptocurrency Mining Malware Attacks Are a Threat

    More than 1.65 million computers have been targeted in malware attacks related to cryptocurrency mining.
  3. Tech

    9 Ways to Protect Your Cell Phone From Identity Theft

    Thanks to lax phone security and sophisticated hackers, cell phones are the target for identity theft.
  4. Tech

    Bank Hackers Target Smartphones

    Now that you can bank by smartphone, hackers can also get into your account that way. How to protect yourself.
  5. Investing

    Microsoft Word Target of Zero-Day Malware Attack

    Microsoft's Word has a new vulnerability that can enable hackers to secretly install malware.
  6. Tech

    SWIFT Attacks: Hackers Strike Again

    The recent SWIFT cyberattack has revealed connections to the earlier Bangladesh and Sony attacks.
  7. Investing

    Android Phones Vulnerable to Wi-Fi Attacks: Report

    Cybersecurity experts say a new kind of attack lets hackers read Wi-Fi traffic, inject malware.
  8. Tech

    What is Botnet Mining?

    Beyond the standard mining process, botnet mining is another profitable, yet illicit, way to earn cryptocurrencies
  9. Insights

    How To Protect Your Smartphone From Identity Theft

    A smartphone is an identity thief's dream come true because of all of the information it contains. How can you protect your smartphone data?
  10. Investing

    Why Cisco Bought OpenDNS for $635 Million (CSCO)

    Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) recently agreed to buy network security firm OpenDNS for $635 million in cash. OpenDNS hosts a cloud computing security suite called Umbrella, which shields enterprise customers ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What Are the Pros and Cons of Online Checking Accounts?

    Learn about the ways an online checking account can save you time and money, but understand the drawbacks before signing ... Read Answer >>
  2. How is computer software classified as an asset?

    Although computer software is often thought of as an intangible asset, it can be classified as a tangible asset if it meets ... Read Answer >>
  3. Who are Apple's main competitors in tech?

    Explore Apple's competitive position in the many industries in which it operates. Learn about the different products and ... Read Answer >>
  4. Why can't I enter two sell orders on the same stock?

    The limitation on sell orders protects investors. Learn 3 reasons why you can't enter multiple sell orders and the downsides ... Read Answer >>
  5. How Do I Use Software to Make Arbitrage Trades?

    Understand the meaning of arbitrage trading, and find out how traders leverage software programs to detect arbitrage trade ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center