Malware (a portmanteau for malicious software) is any software intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, server or computer network. Malware does the damage after it is implanted or introduced in some way into a target’s computer and can take the form of executable code, scripts, active content, and other software. The code is described as , Computer worm, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, and scareware, among other terms. Malware has a malicious intent, acting against the interest of the computer user—and so does not include software that causes unintentional harm due to some deficiency, which is typically described as a software bug.
Programs officially supplied by companies can be considered malware if they secretly act against the interests of the computer user. For example, Sony sold the Sony rootkit, which contained a Trojan horse embedded into Compact disc that silently installed and concealed itself on purchasers' computers with the intention of preventing illicit copying. It also reported on users' listening habits, and unintentionally created vulnerabilities that were then exploited by unrelated malware.
One strategy for protecting against malware is to prevent the malware software from gaining access to the target computer. For this reason, antivirus software, firewalls and other strategies are used to help protect against the introduction of malware, in addition to checking for the presence of malware and malicious activity and recovering from attacks.
Malware is sometimes used broadly against government or corporate websites to gather guarded information, or to disrupt their operation in general. However, malware can be used against individuals to gain information such as personal identification numbers or details, bank or credit card numbers, and passwords.
Since the rise of widespread broadband Internet access, malicious software has more frequently been designed for profit. Since 2003, the majority of widespread computer virus and worms have been designed to take control of users' computers for illicit purposes. Infected "" can be used to send email spam, to host contraband data such as child pornography, or to engage in distributed denial-of-service attacks as a form of extortion. PC World – Zombie PCs: Silent, Growing Threat.
Programs designed to monitor users' web browsing, display unsolicited advertisements, or redirect affiliate marketing revenues are called spyware. Spyware programs do not spread like viruses; instead they are generally installed by exploiting security holes. They can also be hidden and packaged together with unrelated user-installed software.
Ransomware affects an infected computer system in some way, and demands payment to bring it back to its normal state. For example, programs such as CryptoLocker Encryption files securely, and only decrypt them on payment of a substantial sum of money.
Some malware is used to generate money by click fraud, making it appear that the computer user has clicked an advertising link on a site, generating a payment from the advertiser. It was estimated in 2012 that about 60 to 70% of all active malware used some kind of click fraud, and 22% of all ad-clicks were fraudulent.
In addition to criminal money-making, malware can be used for sabotage, often for political motives. Stuxnet, for example, was designed to disrupt very specific industrial equipment. There have been politically motivated attacks that have spread over and shut down large computer networks, including massive deletion of files and corruption of master boot records, described as "computer killing". Such attacks were made on Sony Pictures Entertainment (25 November 2014, using malware known as Shamoon or W32.Disttrack) and Saudi Aramco (August 2012).
Trojan horses are generally spread by some form of social engineering, for example, where a user is duped into executing an e-mail attachment disguised to be unsuspicious, (e.g., a routine form to be filled in), or by drive-by download. Although their payload can be anything, many modern forms act as a backdoor, contacting a controller which can then have unauthorized access to the affected computer. While Trojan horses and backdoors are not easily detectable by themselves, computers may appear to run slower due to heavy processor or network usage.
In spring 2017 Mac users were hit by the new version of Proton Remote Access Trojan (RAT) trained to extract password data from various sources, such as browser auto-fill data, the Mac-OS keychain, and password vaults.
Some types of harmful software contain routines to evade identification and/or removal attempts, not merely to hide themselves. An early example of this behavior is recorded in the Jargon File tale of a pair of programs infesting a Xerox CP-V time sharing system:
The idea has often been suggested that computer manufacturers preinstall backdoors on their systems to provide technical support for customers, but this has never been reliably verified. It was reported in 2014 that US government agencies had been diverting computers purchased by those considered "targets" to secret workshops where software or hardware permitting remote access by the agency was installed, considered to be among the most productive operations to obtain access to networks around the world. Backdoors may be installed by Trojan horses, computer worm, implants, or other methods.
Nowadays, one of the most sophisticated and stealthy ways of evasion is to use information hiding techniques, namely stegomalware. A survey on stegomalware was published by Cabaj et al. in 2018.
Malware authors target Software bug, or loopholes, to exploit. A common method is exploitation of a buffer overrun vulnerability, where software designed to store data in a specified region of memory does not prevent more data than the buffer can accommodate being supplied. Malware may provide data that overflows the buffer, with malicious executable code or data after the end; when this payload is accessed it does what the attacker, not the legitimate software, determines.
Malware distributors would trick the user into booting or running from an infected device or medium. For example, a virus could make an infected computer add autorunnable code to any USB stick plugged into it. Anyone who then attached the stick to another computer set to autorun from USB would in turn become infected, and also pass on the infection in the same way. More generally, any device that plugs into a USB port - even lights, fans, speakers, toys, or peripherals such as a digital microscope - can be used to spread malware. Devices can be infected during manufacturing or supply if quality control is inadequate.
This form of infection can largely be avoided by setting up computers by default to boot from the internal hard drive, if available, and not to autorun from devices. Intentional booting from another device is always possible by pressing certain keys during boot.
Some systems allow all users to modify their internal structures, and such users today would be considered over-privileged users. This was the standard operating procedure for early microcomputer and home computer systems, where there was no distinction between an administrator or root, and a regular user of the system. In some systems, non-administrator users are over-privileged by design, in the sense that they are allowed to modify internal structures of the system. In some environments, users are over-privileged because they have been inappropriately granted administrator or equivalent status.
Some systems allow code executed by a user to access all rights of that user, which is known as over-privileged code. This was also standard operating procedure for early microcomputer and home computer systems. Malware, running as over-privileged code, can use this privilege to subvert the system. Almost all currently popular operating systems, and also many scripting applications allow code too many privileges, usually in the sense that when a user Executable code, the system allows that code all rights of that user. This makes users vulnerable to malware in the form of e-mail attachments, which may or may not be disguised.
Anti-malware programs can combat malware in two ways:
Real-time protection from malware works identically to real-time antivirus protection: the software scans disk files at download time, and blocks the activity of components known to represent malware. In some cases, it may also intercept attempts to install start-up items or to modify browser settings. Because many malware components are installed as a result of or user error, using security software (some of which are anti-malware, though many are not) to "sandbox" browsers (essentially isolate the browser from the computer and hence any malware induced change) can also be effective in helping to restrict any damage done.
Examples of Microsoft Windows anti-virus and anti-malware software include the optional Microsoft Security Essentials (for Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7) for real-time protection, the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool (now included with Windows Update on "Patch Tuesday", the second Tuesday of each month), and Windows Defender (an optional download in the case of Windows XP, incorporating MSE functionality in the case of Windows 8 and later). Additionally, several capable antivirus software programs are available for free download from the Internet (usually restricted to non-commercial use). Tests found some free programs to be competitive with commercial ones. Microsoft's System File Checker can be used to check for and repair corrupted system files.
Some viruses disable System Restore and other important Windows tools such as Task Manager and Command Prompt. Many such viruses can be removed by booting the computer, entering Windows safe mode with networking, and then using system tools or Microsoft Safety Scanner.
Hardware implants can be of any type, so there can be no general way to detect them.
"AirHopper",M. Guri, G. Kedma, A. Kachlon and Y. Elovici, "AirHopper: Bridging the air-gap between isolated networks and mobile phones using radio frequencies," Malicious and Unwanted Software: The Americas (MALWARE), 2014 9th International Conference on, Fajardo, PR, 2014, pp. 58-67. "BitWhisper",M. Guri, M. Monitz, Y. Mirski and Y. Elovici, "BitWhisper: Covert Signaling Channel between Air-Gapped Computers Using Thermal Manipulations," 2015 IEEE 28th Computer Security Foundations Symposium, Verona, 2015, pp. 276-289. "GSMem" GSMem: Data Exfiltration from Air-Gapped Computers over GSM Frequencies. Mordechai Guri, Assaf Kachlon, Ofer Hasson, Gabi Kedma, Yisroel Mirsky, and Yuval Elovici, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; USENIX Security Symposium 2015 and "Fansmitter" /ref> are four techniques introduced by researchers that can leak data from air-gapped computers using electromagnetic, thermal and acoustic emissions.
It describes applications that behave in an annoying or undesirable manner, and yet are less serious or troublesome than malware. Grayware encompasses spyware, adware, fraudulent dialers, joke programs, remote access tools and other unwanted programs that may harm the performance of computers or cause inconvenience. The term came into use around 2004.
Another term, potentially unwanted program (PUP) or potentially unwanted application (PUA), refers to applications that would be considered unwanted despite often having been downloaded by the user, possibly after failing to read a download agreement. PUPs include spyware, adware, and fraudulent dialers. Many security products classify unauthorised key generators as grayware, although they frequently carry true malware in addition to their ostensible purpose.
Software maker Malwarebytes lists several criteria for classifying a program as a PUP. Some types of adware (using stolen certificates) turn off anti-malware and virus protection; technical remedies are available.
The first worms, Computer network-borne infectious programs, originated not on personal computers, but on multitasking Unix systems. The first well-known worm was the Morris worm of 1988, which infected SunOS and VAX BSD systems. Unlike a virus, this worm did not insert itself into other programs. Instead, it exploited security holes (vulnerabilities) in network server programs and started itself running as a separate process. This same behavior is used by today's worms as well.
With the rise of the Microsoft Windows platform in the 1990s, and the flexible macros of its applications, it became possible to write infectious code in the macro language of Microsoft Word and similar programs. These macro viruses infect documents and templates rather than applications (), but rely on the fact that macros in a Word document are a form of executable code.