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Malware Awareness in SMOs

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Getting caught by malware

Malware is used by attackers to enable them to get to you, your data, or other assets. Getting it onto organisations' systems has become a real are on the part of attackers, everyday anyone communicating with the world using technology is likely to come across many attempts to infect them.

This is an edited transcript from a video blog recording of Sarb Sembhi, CTO and the CISO for Virtually Informed, and his co-host Nick Ioannou, Director of Boolean Logic.

What is malware?

Malware is a generic term for malicious software and encompasses anything that has been designed to affect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and/or computer systems without permission, to commit extortion, theft, fraud, or enable unauthorised use. Malware is mostly created by criminals, including organised crime, as well as nation states and activists, but can also be created accidentally. 

The term ‘malware’ is often interchangeable with the term ‘virus’, especially anti-virus, as just about all anti-virus solutions are also anti-malware.

Malware Growth

Malware is not a new phenomenon, going back to the 1980s, their impact was limited as often the infection route was via floppy disk, but as the internet developed in the 90s, together with huge increases in the use of computers at both home and work, the impact of malware also grew. By the start of the 21st Century, malware could infect millions of computers within hours of being released as broadband services replaced dial-up internet access.

Over the past decade the leaps in the speed of our internet connections on both fixed and mobile connections, together with the shift to cloud computing, has allowed the criminals to develop malware to carry out multiple crimes, often without the victims knowledge. To get a sense of the scale of the current problem, the AV-TEST Institute (av-test.org) registers over 350,000 new malware programs and potentially unwanted applications every day, with over malware accounting for over 89%.

Over the past 10 years the total number of malware programs has grown from 65 million to 1069 million. This is in part due to the growth in malware designed for mobiles and tablet operating systems like Google Android, as well as computing operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS. One of most predominant types of malware with the greatest impact is ransomware, where individuals and organisations are locked out of their computers or locked out of their data and extorted for large sums of money to regain access. Many Organisations never fully recover from a major ransomware infection and go under within 6 months.

How Malware Spreads?

Sometimes different types of malware are given names based on what their creators are trying to achieve, such as a Key Logger, Botnet, File Stealer, Cryptojacker, Remote Access Trojan, Spyware and Adware, while other types are named based on their infection route or delivery method, such as a Virus, Worm, Rootkit or Exploit Kit. New types of malware are constantly being developed, so this is by no means an exhaustive list and will only get longer over time. Also, just because a piece of malware has a type or name, that does not mean it is limited to that one function. In many cases the trend is for malware that first establishes a foothold onto a user’s computer, assesses the potential for various activities and chooses the most profitable, or a combination of functions.

In over 90% of situations, the main infection route for malware is via email, either as an attachment or a link in the email. The other methods include compromising established websites, typo-squatting established domains, compromising remote access tools, compromised software updates, fake online services, cracked software, bogus social media messages and posts, even dropping infected USB memory sticks in car parks.

Another way to look at it is, that malware is essentially computer code, and to consider how this computer coder gets from one place and onto your organisations' computer. There are two obvious ways that this happen, firstly if that code is in a file it can get into Organisations in at least the following ways:

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About the Authors

Sarb Sembhi

Sarb Sembhi, Virtually InformedSarb is the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Information Security Officer for Virtually Informed. 

He writes and speaks about:

  • Strategic issues in Smart Environments and related technologies;
  • Digital Safety Skills for anyone not working in Cyber Security, and; 
  • Business / security challenges for small businesses and start-ups.
Nick Ioannou

Nick is Director of Boolean Logic Limited, a blogger, an author and public speaker.

Nick has authored:

  • 'Internet Security Fundamentals',
  • 'A Practical Guide to Cyber Security for Small Businesses' and
  • 'A Practical Guide to GDPR for Small Businesses',
  • as well as contributing to three 'Managing Cybersecurity Risk' books and 'Conquer The Web'.