Malware & Ransomware In Depth

Sections on this page
  1. What Is Malware & What Is Ransomware?
  2. Red Flags of Malware & Ransomware Scams
  3. Most Common Types of Malware & Ransomware Attacks
  4. How to Beat Malware & Ransomware Scams
  5. Fallen Victim to a Malware or Ransomware Scam?

Since people learned how to share information over the web, scammers learned how to steal that information.

Sadly, those cruel intentions have led to the rise of malware and ransomware attacks—but developers fighting on the side of good have been hard at work creating protections for our devices and details.

What Is Malware & What Is Ransomware?

Malware and ransomware are two words that are unfortunately as bad as they sound.

The terms describe two types of "malicious" software—what malware is actually short for—that attack your computer in different ways. Malware is a more general term describing any program that allows scammers to track your activity or access your files. Ransomware is a specific type of malware that will limit or block what you can do on your device, essentially holding your computer hostage until you pay a scammer some sort of ransom.

As such, malware and ransomware attacks represent two of the biggest threats in the world of cybersecurity, often leading to cases of identity theft or severely compromised internet security. And like many other types of scams, these two have been on the rise in the wake of the pandemic. Scammers capitalized on the widespread confusion and desperation of the situation to trick more victims into taking the bait.

The first half of 2021 alone saw the number of malware attacks against organizations double from the year before, with the downloads impacting more than 1,000 victims in 63 countries—and that's to say nothing of individuals.

Still, there's a pivotal line of defense between your information and a ransomware attack: You. To impact your device, malware must first be downloaded—and there are some red flags to look out for to avoid accidentally clicking on these malicious links.

Red Flags of Malware & Ransomware Scams

Again, malware or ransomware must first be downloaded onto your device before it can attack. As such, you should be extremely cautious about any message or program asking you to download anything.

Other significant signs of malware or ransomware scams include:

  • Any unsolicited email or text asking you to download an attachment or click on a link.
  • An email address from a person/organization you know that's slightly off/misspelled.
  • A link to a known site that's slightly off/misspelled.
  • A message from someone you know that seems out of the blue, asking you to download something or click on a link.
  • Any link you click on that takes you to a page, asking you to "sign in" with an email or social media account.
  • A Microsoft Word attachment that asks you to "enable macros."
  • A message with poor grammar or strange turns of phrase.
  • Any unsolicited requests for personal information.

These are just the most prominent or typical signs of a planned malware attack, but it's important to remember that scammers are always trying to stay one step ahead. As such, perhaps the best red flag of all is your intuition: If something seems off to you, it probably is.

Most Common Types of Malware & Ransomware Attacks

Since people must choose to actively download malware onto their own devices, these schemes are often highly disguised.

Scammers will typically masquerade as trusted sources you wouldn't think twice about clicking a link for—but beware. Ransomware attacks can come from nearly anywhere.

Phishing/Vishing/Smishing Scams

By far, the biggest delivery system for malware is email, with the medium representing 92% of all ransomware attacks in 2018. The way scammers keep getting these results is through a method called "phishing."

These types of attacks can look like anything, for example:

  • An email from a friend, excited to share a link with you
  • A trusted company, informing you of a new deal
  • An IT consultant, informing you of an issue with one of your accounts and asking you to click on a link to address it

They all have in common the call to action: Asking you to download an attachment or click on a link, which is how the malware gets delivered to your device.

Similar scams called "vishing" and "smishing" are also rising. Vishing involves scammers trying to steal your information over the phone, while smishing occurs through a malicious text message.

Social Media Spread

Another fast-rising vehicle for malware and ransomware attacks is social media. Indeed, the entire point of the medium is to share things, making it much easier to trick people into clicking on bad links.

Most scammers get away with this trick by hacking user accounts. You'll get a message or comment that seems like it's from your friend or family member, asking you to click on a link. In actuality, the person didn't write that comment—it was auto-generated by a scammer.

App Downloads

App downloads also represent a massive amount of malware or ransomware attack origins.

These scams are pretty straightforward—the scammer will develop an "app," and market it on one of the many app marketplaces. Then, once you download it, you'll download their malware too.

Pop-Up Ads

In the era of the ad blocker, these problematic advertisements are thankfully much less of an everyday presence. Still, pop-up ads continue to haunt us—and many of them bring malware with them.

Whatever the ads claim to be selling is irrelevant. Once they get you to click on their link, they'll deliver the malware directly to your device.

How to Beat Malware & Ransomware Scams

One of the benefits of dealing with a problem for so long is getting the chance to learn your enemy.

Engineers have been studying the impact of malware for years and have designed several programs intended to solve the problem in the wake of that research.

Purchasing a reputable malware protection program, such as Norton or Kaspersky Anti-Virus, is your best bet for avoiding malware and ransomware attacks. Still, it's crucial to ensure you purchase a legitimate program from a legitimate source.

And even if you have protection, it's important to play defense. Some other ways to avoid malware scams include:

  • NEVER clicking on links or downloading attachments from someone you don't know.
  • Being cautious about opening links/attachments from people you do know.
    • Instead of clicking the link, type the main domain into a separate window and search from there.
    • If you received a message from a friend, ask them on a different medium if they really sent it.
  • Checking emails for false/misleading addresses.
  • Keeping your operation system up-to-date.
  • Regularly backing up your files and data.

Fallen Victim to a Malware or Ransomware Scam?

Falling victim to a malware or ransomware attack can be extremely upsetting.

If you've encountered one of these scams, you should immediately stop using your infected device and contact an IT professional. You may have to remove and replace the hardware on your device in this case, which is why it's essential to back up your information regularly.

If you think the malware may have been used to steal your identity, you should also report the scam to:

If your financial information was involved, you should:

  • Contact your bank right away to inform them.
  • Freeze any associated accounts or credit cards.
  • Create an IRS Identity Protection PIN for your taxes.

And finally, take the appropriate steps to recover from identity theft.

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