Do you remember getting incensed because something slowed down your computer? You don’t remember what you did, but your computer is now slow, buggy and some of the things are not working the way they are supposed to. Sounds familiar? A layman would say “your computer has been infected with a virus”. Is that right? Sure, your computer has been infected. But not everything that infects is a virus. Just like how we have racists for races, we have softists for softwares! After reading this post, you will not be one of those. You would have come across terms like malware, spyware, worms etc. Now what exactly are these things?
It starts with an intent of malice
Let’s start with malware. Malware is short for MALicious softWARE. It is a general term used to describe any kind of software that does harm to your computer. This includes virus, spyware, worms etc. So technically, if something has gone wrong with your computer, the only conclusion you can draw is that it has been infected with a malware.
Perhaps the most well known
The most famous representative of malware to the general public is the virus! A virus is a program which copies itself and spreads from one file to another, just like how a real virus inside our body would! Viruses attach themselves to executables or files which have some kind of autorun capability. When you transfer these files to another computer, these infected files go into that computer and start spreading there as well.
I spy with my little eye
Too subtle? How else should I have masked the word ‘Spyware’? Anyway, it means exactly what it sounds like. It spies on you! Spyware refers to a software that is installed on your machine to spy on you. It will steal your information without your knowledge and sends it back to the attacker. Some common forms of spyware include keylogging, looking at your search history, stealing passwords etc. The good thing about spyware is that it will not do any harm to your computer. In fact, you’ll not even know it’s there. The attacker needs your computer to be healthy so that the information keeps flowing back.
The strategy that ended a mythical war
Ever heard the story of the Trojan Horse? During the Trojan War, the Greeks were trying to capture the city of Troy but they were being successfully repelled by Trojans. So the Greeks built a huge wooden horse and hid some soldiers inside. The rest of them pretended to go away. The Trojans then took this horse inside as a victory trophy. Later that night, the hidden soldiers came out of that horse and opened the gates from inside to allow the rest of the Greeks to come in. Hence the Greeks were able to destroy the city of Troy and win the war!
This is exactly what a Trojan does. It’s an application that looks harmless but secretly has some malicious code inside that does something bad. It does not infect other files like a virus. It just creates a backdoor so that the attacker can either control it directly or remotely.
Those invertebrates with long, slender and soft bodies with no limbs
Yes, I’m referring to the real worms! Computer worms, on the other hand, use networks to send copies of themselves to other computers. They usually use a security flaw to travel from one host to the next. Worms tend to rapidly spread across a network. A worm is not the same as a virus. Worms actually slow down the network. They don’t need user intervention to spread and they don’t infect existing files. They just spread copies of themselves.
Ads are scary
Adware refers to the programs which bring too many ads to your computer. If the infected machine connects to the internet, then a flurry of pop-ups will fill your screen. You will not be able to close them down. If you close one, another one will open right away. This consumes a lot of bandwidth and your internet connection will be slowed down.
It’s called Scareware. This one’s relatively new and is not as well known as the rest. The user is tricked into downloading something which looks like an antivirus application. It will then proceed to infect your computer with hundreds of viruses, and can only be cleaned if you buy the full license. Usually your computer will not be able to function until you clean it up. It’s like holding your computer for ransom. If the user is even a little bit careful, this kind of attack is difficult.
So there, now you know all the different types of malware. The next time someone uses these terms interchangeably, you know what to do! Going by the number of times this has happened, I think we will need another “I have a dream” speech, only this time for malware.