What Is Malware?

What Is Malware? article image.

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So what is malware? Malware is a popular tool used by cybercriminals to steal identities, obtain personally identifiable information, and infect laptops and smartphones. It is software that has malicious intent and includes viruses, ransomware, spyware or adware.

Incidences of malware tend to rise during holidays or special events such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, the Super Bowl, March Madness, and tax day. A large number of people become victims because they want to participate in surveys, polls, and contests that are sent to them via both personal and work email addresses.

These unsolicited requests asking people to provide information are often attempts to steal your personal information. The fraudsters create fake domains, which mimic legitimate companies such as financial institutions, sports and entertainment ticket companies, or national clothing manufacturers. Once you click on the link, malware or ransomware is downloaded to your device.

Common Types of Malware

These are some common types of malware criminals are using:


Fraudsters often deploy malware by sending emails which appear to look like a trustworthy source such as a bank, credit card company or retailer. Consumers mistakenly open the email and click on the links, which allows the malware to be activated. This method is called phishing and is one of the most popular methods deployed by fraudsters.

Smishing is a growing form of phishing in which fraudsters focus on texts in order to con people. When unsuspecting people click on links in the texts or emails, the cyber criminals can easily steal their password, credit card numbers or other personal identifiable information such as a Social Security number.

Social Media Scams

Social media is another venue where fraudsters deploy their malware readily. Consumers should avoid sharing personal information on social networks and check that they know who the sender is in instant or direct messages.


Ransomware is also increasing in popularity and occurs when fraudsters are able to obtain the data from your computer or operating system. In order for individuals or companies to retrieve their records, which often have sensitive data about their clients or other financial information, the hackers ask for a ransom. Often the fraudsters want to be paid the "ransom" in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency because there is no way to track where the money is headed and the receivers can remain anonymous.

In 2016, ransomware targeted towards consumers rose by 93% while ransomware against businesses increased by 90%, Malwarebytes reported in their 2017 State of Malware Report. These ransomware attacks occur when hackers steal data and hold it ransom until the company or owner agrees to pay a set amount of money for the private keys to regain access.

Corporations and even local governments are often the targets of ransomware since the criminals can hold key files hostage until the ransom is paid. Hospitals and cities, including Atlanta, have had to shut down online systems during the ordeal to prevent more data from being stolen.

Consumers can defend themselves against ransomware by ensuring that they constantly back up their data as well as by downloading software updates.

What You Can Do About Malware

Consumers should strive to adopt a security method where they always check the origin of emails from unknown people and update their cybersecurity protections on all their electronics, including their laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Be wary of who is asking you for information. If a retailer or company asks you to provide a Social Security number, ask them the reason behind the request if you fail to see the purpose for the information.

The number of phishing schemes will not diminish because too many people still fall prey to them.

How to Lessen the Impact of a Malware Attack

Depending on the type of malware that was installed on your computer or what kind of personal information was breached, the actions you take afterward will vary. If the criminals were able to obtain just one or two credit card numbers, the fraud is easier to fix because you can cancel your credit card with your credit card issuer and they will send you a new card with a new account number. If other data like your Social Security number was stolen, it gets more complicated.

Read here for more information on specific steps to take after malware has infiltrated your files, such as putting a fraud alert on your credit report and monitoring all your accounts for several months afterwards. You may need to file an identity theft report with the FTC if your identity is stolen after a data breach or consider filing a police report.

To prevent another malware attack in the future, run the updates on your computer and install the latest security patches. Also, if your files were securely backed up in the cloud, it can be easy to restore the ones you commonly use.

It is also a good strategy to check your credit report on a regular basis to see if anyone tries to open a new credit card or another account in your name. Consumers can obtain their credit report for free every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com from Experian, Equifax and Transunion. You can also get a free copy of your Experian credit report and dispute anything inaccurate on your Experian credit report here on Experian.com.