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Malware is any type of malicious software that’s designed to infiltrate a device without the user’s knowledge, cause damage or disruption, steal information, or all of the above. It’s the root of most data breaches, including some of the largest-ever corporate hacks. And it’s behind the ransomware attacks that have reemerged as one of the most dangerous and destructive types of cyberattacks.

Malicious code infiltrates devices by exploiting vulnerabilities that exist in operating systems, software, file servers, networks, and even hardware. Once infected, malware can spread from one device to another by sending infected attachments or links via email, instant messaging, social media, or ad delivery. Malware can also infect and take over a computer or network using file-sharing services, such as peer to peer (P2P) or USB, which allow malware to replicate itself on removable media or other computers.

Viruses, worms, Trojans, bots, and other malware are among the most common types of malicious programs. They can crack weak passwords, dig deep into systems, infect networks, and cripple businesses or organizations. They can also compromise personal information and create huge data breaches, and they can encrypt files that can only be unlocked with a key known only to the attacker.

Some malware uses new evasion and obfuscation techniques to avoid detection by signature-based antimalware tools. For example, polymorphic malware changes its underlying code to avoid detection; and sandboxing technology enables a program to run in a protected environment without risking the real system.