Security Tip of the Week

December 6, 2010

An Introduction to Malware

You’ve no doubt heard of computer viruses – bits of malicious code that can infect other programs on your computer. You may also have heard of computer worms that spread of their own accord, trojans that trick users into infecting themselves, and spyware which can violate a user’s privacy. While their specific methods and effects may differ, the one thing all of these creations have in common is malicious intent – they’re all designed to somehow harm you the computer user. The IT industry has therefore taken to referring to them collectively as malware, a portmanteau coined to refer to all forms of malicious software.

A couple of trends have marked the evolution of malware over its twenty-odd years of existence. In the early days, the total number of distinct malware was small – hundreds to thousands - and the rate at which new samples appeared could be counted on one’s hand. Early malware also tended to be less malicious. Much of it propagated merely for the sake of propagating; if it did disrupt your computer’s normal operations, it was as likely to be the result of an error as malfeasance on the programmer’s part. All told, if you downloaded your (at most) weekly anti-virus updates, you were unlikely to suffer serious harm.

Fast forward to today, and the total number, rate of release, and destructiveness of modern malware has increased many orders of magnitude. The number of distinct malware in existence now numbers in the millions. Five to ten thousand unique new malware samples are discovered daily. And today’s malware has gone from mere nuisance, to stealing users’ data, their login credentials, their money, even their identities.

With the risk of occurrence and the stakes that high, it is vital that every computer user know how to protect themselves from today’s modern malware. Over the next several weeks, we will present a series of articles regarding countermeasures you can take to protect yourself, your families, and your employer against such exploits. Thank you for reading our inaugural IT Security Tip of the Week. Please stay tuned!


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