So you’ve gotten your computer infected with a nasty piece of malware. We know we really don’t want malware. What we may not know is what it actually does once it infects our computer.
We know it can slow down your computer and result in unexpected errors, but these are merely symptoms of malware. They don’t tell us what the objective of the malware is.
Whether it’s a virus, a rootkit, a Trojan horse, adware, spyware or something else, it’s not something we want on our computers. Malware comes in all shapes and sizes, and what it actually does on your device can vary, so we take a look at some of the stuff it can get up to.
It spies on you and reports back to scammer HQ
Malware that spies on your online activity is generally classified as spyware. Once this type of malware infects your computer, it’s all about spying on your Internet activity and reporting what it finds back to those who operate the malware.
In many cases this can mean seeing what websites you visit and what products you’re buying or browsing for online so the malware can serve you relevant (but unsolicited) adverts, probably in the guise of pop-ups. So if you’re browsing Amazon for hair straighteners, you may find pop-up adverts or adverts on websites showing you adverts for hair straightening products. Malware that provides pop-up adverts can also be referred to as adware.
However the more serious strain of malware would be keyloggers (or keysniffers) which is spyware designed to log everything you type into your computer and transmit it back to the scammer. Typically the idea of this type of malware is to obtain your login information for websites like online banking, PayPal, eBay, online email accounts and Facebook. This will make you vulnerable to all types of scams including identity theft.
It provides a back-door to your device
Malware can provide what is essentially a “back door” to your computer that bypasses your Internet security. This grants the scammer access to your computer, usually with administrator privileges, at any time. This in turn allows a scammer to control your computer to some degree.
Malware that provides this type of unauthorised access is generally referred to as a “rootkit”. The term ‘root’ refers to a type of account on some types of operating system that has full admin access.
This type of malware is often used by scammers who want to control a large network of computers at one time, in what is commonly referred to as a “botnet” with each infected computer called a “slave”. The scammers can, for example, launch large scale attacks on third party targets using a network of infected computers that have this type of malware infection.
However this type of malware can also provide scammers a way of installing further malware on the infected computer, such as spyware.
It locks you out of your computer until you pay to get access back
More recently, more advanced malware can lock you out of your computer until you pay money to regain control. This is understandably known as ransomware.
Ransomware can be categorized into two variants.
Primitive variants will simply stop the user from logging into the operating system (e.g. Windows.) It would claim that the user needs to pay to regain access to the computer. However users could uninstall this malware (with the help of a professional), often in a repair or safe mode, which would then allow access again.
However more advanced variants will actually encrypt the user’s personal files and hold them to ransom until the user pays up. This strain of malware is particularly dangerous because there is no way of decrypting the files without paying the ransom. As with the more primitive variant, the ransomware can be removed easily enough, but the files will still be encrypted, meaning the user needs the decrypt key from the scammer.
It can damage your operating system
Perhaps less common than other variants, malware can be designed to simply make your computer unusable. It can be designed to damage or delete important software required for your computer to load up correctly. In many cases the damage can be so severe that the only option would be to restore the computer back to its factory settings.
This can be a very laborious process and many users will need to take their computer to a professional in order to save their personal files from being deleted (which happens when a factory restore takes place.)
It can turn your computer into a spammy email/social media marketing machine
There is no shortage of spammy websites peddling all sorts of counterfeit and fake goods. This type of malware is designed to cause your computer to send out spammy marketing emails to all of your email contacts containing links to these types of websites. The malware will access your email address book and result in your computer automatically sending out emails to all of your contacts.
This can also happen with your social media accounts. Malware can cause your, for example, Facebook account to send out spammy links or chat messages to your social media contacts.
It can trick you into thinking you’re protecting your computer
Known as fake-antivirus malware, or scareware, this type of malware can masquerade as antivirus software reporting multiple threats to your computer. The aim of this type of malware is to panic the user into paying for what they believe is antivirus software to remove the reported threats, when they are – in reality – just handing over money to a scammer.