Explaining Malware Like a Guru


Nearly everyone that uses a computer understands what a computer virus is, and those who don’t likely get the concept of a virus too. However, security software often combines the terms ‘virus’ and ‘malware’, the latter being not as popular. So you may ask, what exactly is ‘malware’? Well, let us explain.

Not only can malware cause issues to your computer, but it can spread by using your system and affect those that you connect with too. This is why understanding malware will help you get smarter with your online activities and increase your security protocols.

What is malware?

Malware is simply a shortened version of ‘malicious software’, where “malicious” refers to software that was originally designed for the purpose of causing harm. Therefore, in technical terms, computer viruses are malware but are often classified as a separate category. Basically, malware is software that you do not want on your computer and which causes things to happen that you did not agree too.

Below we will go over how malware is commonly spread. It is generally one of the following:

Falsified emails

malware spam

We love spam, don’t you love spam? Come on, who doesn’t enjoy getting random unknown emails that could be filled with potentially harmful malware? This is one of the most commonly used ways of spreading malware, and it comes in the form of a fake email pretending to be something it’s not. Most of the time, it’s easy to detect if you’re paying attention.

For example, an email that appears to be from Adobe but was sent from a strange address such as something@notadobe.com (obviously, Adobe emails would come from @adobe.com).

However, there are times when we will get such emails from people on our contacts list because they were hacked, and the malware is sending out infected attachments. If you got something you weren’t expecting, don’t open it until you confirm they have actually sent it!

Embedded in an installation

malware code

Image credit: Flickr / Christiaan Colen

With the ease of the internet, there are various ways that software can be downloaded. Although downloads from well-known and trusted sources are usually okay, downloading from an unknown source always has the risk of malware.

For instance, when you search for something like “Photo editing software”, the results likely show various links to different downloads. Let’s say one of the links is from a trusted source, such as Adobe, while the other links go to random websites that could contain malware. Even though not all unofficial downloads will be infected, it’s always a good idea to understand the risk.

Disguised as other stuff

What fun would harmful fake stuff be without it trying to be a Master of Disguise? For instance, you downloaded that photo editing software only to notice that the software didn’t actually install. Instead, vague notifications were provided, giving the appearance that things may not have been as they appeared. The truth is, a bunch of malware out there is spread by simple trickery through online downloads and torrents.

Okay, but what does malware actually do?

malware spreading

Malware can cause just about anything to happen: from spreading infected data to a more legal, if unscrupulous, statistics tracking for applications you’ve downloaded. Technically, it is not harmful, and many may agree to it by skimming through the fine print, but it still uses your system to someone else’s advantage. Not to mention that it’s an invasion of privacy at a bare minimum.

There are times when malware is very hard to detect or get rid of because it has been disguised as something completely different. A worst case scenario usually involves rootkits – malicious software configured to be almost undetectable from within a Task Manager view.


That’s why you likely won’t be able to visually detect malware. In this case, you should focus on more general symptoms, such as browser pop-ups randomly appearing and stating something like “Danger, your system is affected, click here!” If your system has slowed down considerably, this could also be due to malware taking up a bunch of resources in the background. Downloading anti-malware tools is often a good first step to protection.

The anti-malware tools allow you to identify and, in most cases, remove the continuously evolving malware. Luckily, there are ways to prevent getting it in the first place and tackle the situation early on in case malware does make it to your system. The more you educate yourself, the better you will be able to remain secure.

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