What is Malware? A Definition & Tips for Malware Prevention
Learn how to recognize and defend against malware attacks in Data Protection 101, our series on the fundamentals of information security.
A Definition of Malware
Malware is software that is intended to damage or disable computers and computer systems without the owner’s knowledge. Malware is the shortened term for “malicious software,” and it typically is characterized by the intent of the creator rather than by its features. Various types of malware exist, including spyware, viruses, worms, Trojans, and other types of malicious code that can infiltrate computers.
As malware attacks continue to grow in both frequency and sophistication, it is becoming increasingly difficult for enterprises to defend against them. The most serious malware attacks combine stealth, precision, and social engineering techniques to penetrate and compromise systems. When these cyber threats make it into a system, they steal proprietary data transmitted over corporate and classified networks, often causing serious damage before they are detected.
How to Prevent Malware Attacks
The best approach to preventing malware attacks is one that is proactive. A good starting place to prevent malware attacks in your organization is to educate your employees on how to recognize and protect their computers and devices from such attacks. Some of the best strategies that employees should follow for a proactive approach to malware prevention include the following:
- Ensure that all security updates and patches are installed – Install updates and security patches as soon as possible to protect against malware and other security risks. This is particularly important for popular and widely used programs like Java, Adobe, and QuickTime. Turn on automatic software updates when possible.
- Avoid suspicious links and emails – When you receive an unsolicited or suspicious-looking link or email, avoid it. Many times these are phishing emails intended to appear legitimate in order to trick users into downloading malware or revealing sensitive information. Remember that it is very rare that a business will ask for your password or other personal information via email and this is usually sign of a phishing attack.
- Avoid suspicious websites – Malware attackers often spoof popular websites, so if you notice anything out of the ordinary on a website, including the URL, website features, etc., be cautious and don’t enter any sensitive data. To ensure that a website you’re visiting is authentic, read the URL carefully and check that the site uses HTTPS.
- Review software carefully before downloading – Before installing anything new on a computer or device, including free or trial versions of software, look into the program and its reviews to ensure legitimacy.
- Leverage strong, unique passwords – Too many people continue to use easily-guessed passwords, or the same password for all of their accounts. It is imperative that you use a strong, unique password for each of your accounts. Where offered, enable two factor authentication to further secure access to your accounts.
- Turn on your firewall – Your firewall is the set of rules that determines the information that can access your PC, so you want to make sure that it is correctly configured and turned on at all times.
- Install an anti-virus/anti-malware software – Using advanced anti-virus programs that keep a watchful eye over your system will protect against common malware and other security risks. With reputable anti-virus software, you can block and prevent many infiltrations before they happen. Anti-virus software won’t detect every piece of malware that is out there, but it is a useful baseline defense against well-known malware attacks.
- Limit application privileges – Malware often needs full access to your computer to run properly, so you need to use account controls to limit what a program can do without your permission. Then, when you are notified of software or applications that are attempting to make changes to your system, you can pay attention to the notifications and get help stopping malware from installing.
Following these best practices will ensure that employees and end users in general build secure computing habits that will help protect against malware attacks. At the enterprise level, these practices should be enforced and complemented by a layered defense that employs technologies to prevent, detect, block, and contain malware attacks before systems are compromised or sensitive data is lost. Solutions such as enterprise anti-virus/anti-malware, firewalls, endpoint detection and response, and data loss prevention will provide much of the functionality required by enterprises to defend against malware today.