What is Malware? - Staying Safe Online?

What is Malware? – Staying Safe Online?

what is malware

Many people rely on the internet for many things. However, when you browse the web, you risk exposing yourself to many dangers. Some of these dangers include phishing, viruses, spyware and malware. Malware is a major concern for IT and security experts. 

A virtual private network (VPN) is widely known for encrypting our online data and activities. Using a VPN is a common way people try to stay safe from prying eyes and monitoring on the internet. Below we will examine all that you need to know about malware. Additionally, we will look at whether VPNs can protect you from malware.

What is Malware?

Malware, an abbreviation for “malicious software,” is any invasive program cybercriminals create to steal data and harm or destroy computers and computer systems. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, adware, and ransomware are a few examples of prevalent malware.

What Does Malware do?

Malware can infiltrate computer networks and devices. So, cybercriminals design malware to negatively affect such devices, networks, and users. Depending on the kind of malware and its objective, this damage can manifest itself in different ways. Malware may have terrible effects in certain situations while having minor and innocuous ones in others.

Types of Malware

There are numerous types of malware. The following are some of the most popular types of malware.

  1. Ransomware

Ransomware is computer malware that encrypts a target’s data and denies them access until the victim pays a ransom. Unfortunately, there is no assurance that the hackers will release the required decryption key after the ransom payment or that the delivered decryption key will be functional.

  1. Spyware

Malware that sneaks onto devices without the owner’s awareness is known as spyware. Usually, hackers use this malware to spy on what someone is doing with their computer system. Therefore, spyware infiltrates your computer and tries to steal your data, including passwords to multiple accounts, credit card or banking information, and online surfing history.

  1. Trojan

A trojan is often unable to replicate itself. However, like the legendary trojan horse in the city of Troy, these malware pose as something the target wants. They may lurk in software updates, games, and applications. You can even find trojans in files embedded in phishing emails. So, when the target unsuspectingly downloads the host file, they activate the malicious software. 

  1. Adware

Adware is a kind of malware that compels your browser to reroute to online adverts, many of which actively attempt to download other harmful software.

Adware threatens user privacy since it gathers information about a user’s online behavior, whether openly or secretly. It uses it to build a profile of that individual that includes information about their friends, purchases they have made, travels they’ve taken, and other things. This information may be shared or sold for advertising without the user’s approval.

  1. Worms

Worms use operating system flaws as their entry points into networks. They could get in through flash drives, inadvertent program flaws, or backdoors integrated into the software. Hostile actors could use worms to execute DDoS assaults, steal confidential information, or carry out ransomware operations after they have been installed.

  1. Fileless malware

Fileless malware is a kind of memory-resident malware. As the name implies, this virus runs from the computer’s memory rather than from data on the hard drive. It is more difficult to find than conventional malware since there aren’t any files to search. Due to the malware’s tendency to vanish after a reboot of the target machine, forensics is also more challenging.

  1. Rootkits

Rootkits allow hackers to take remote control of victims’ devices, frequently without the victims’ knowledge or consent. Rootkits are particularly dangerous because they can stay undetected for an extended period and severely harm the infected machine by hijacking or manipulating security software.

  1. Botnets 

Botnets are malicious software that infects computers with harmful code. Cybercriminals use botnets to hack devices directly, sometimes even seizing remote control.

How is Malware Deployed on a Device?

According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 94% of malware is transmitted by email. Nevertheless, hackers also deploy malware using other techniques. Below, we discuss a few of their usual strategies.

  1. Man-in-the-Browser

Man-in-the-browser attacks occur when a hacker installs malware on a victim’s computer without the user’s knowledge to spy on traffic between the victim and a specified target website.

  1. Social Engineering

Social engineering involves getting individuals to give sensitive information, click harmful links, or download malicious files by playing on their emotions. 

  1. Manually Exploiting Security Vulnerabilities

Cybercriminals actively search for security gaps in devices and networks that they may subsequently use to introduce malware when they exploit security flaws.

  1. Exploit Kits

These are prewritten programs designed to look for device security gaps and introduce malware into such holes.

  1. Coworkers

Through the internal network, certain viruses may propagate from one device to another. For instance, suppose a staff member inadvertently clicked on a dangerous link after forgetting their cybersecurity training. Everyone’s PCs can thus be infected the next day, their data is all encrypted, and they cannot access their accounts.

  1. Careless Browsing

You will probably get on a malicious website if you click on every pop-up or advertisement you see online. The virus gets downloaded in the background. Before you know it, your device gets infected with a trojan or keylogger.

VPNs and Malware

When you are online, your VPN functions as a shield. This stops trackers from recording information about the websites you visit, the videos you watch, and the goods you purchase while you use the internet.

A VPN also protects you on public Wi-Fi connections against man-in-the-middle assaults. VPNs can stop malware from spreading via advertisements.

Many VPN service providers give additional security features like Adblock. Your devices are in danger because of many websites with viruses. For VPN users to surf securely, programs like Adblock ensure that advertising and computer viruses are blocked from loading.

Using a VPN to secure your connection may stop malware from accomplishing its goal. To prevent malware from opening a channel with its handler to transmit data or receive orders, a VPN, by default, limits ports. In addition, many VPNs provide extra ad-blocking tools like CleanWeb, which increase your online security.

What VPNs Don’t Protect you From

A VPN won’t shield you from installing an infected program but will stop others from seeing what you’re downloading. The same holds when opening phishing emails and visiting malicious websites. Firewalls and antivirus software were created for this reason.

Still, it is not particularly effective at preventing malware infestations. In addition, it cannot defend you against viruses and other similar dangers. 

VPNs allow you to download anything. Thus they cannot stop you from downloading malware. So, you can activate malware over a VPN connection, if the VPN does not have anti-malware add-ons.  

Moreover, VPNs do not stop you from setting up ransomware. If you have antivirus software installed on your computer, it will inform you and may stop the application from executing. 

Additionally, they don’t encrypt the files on your device. Using a VPN secures your internet traffic. This indicates that your data is shielded from packet snooping to and from your machine. But a VPN does not protect the files on your computer. Hackers design malware to target such files.

So, if you want malware protection with your VPN, you must choose a VPN that has that extra feature. Alternatively, getting stand-alone antivirus software is advisable. Such software will protect your online activities and device files.

Some high-end VPN services, like NordVPN, have extra capabilities that may stop you from downloading malware. For instance, the Threat Protection feature assists you in identifying malware-infected files. Additionally, it prevents you from visiting harmful websites and eliminates trackers and intrusive adverts.

How to Prevent your Device from Malware and other Online Threats

It is best to engage in best practices to prevent malware when surfing the internet. Some of these practices include:

  1. Avoid Downloading Suspicious Email Attachments 

Malware is often advertised via spam email. You might download an attachment from a spam email for many reasons, but you should avoid doing so.

  1. Always Download Software from Trusted Websites 

Only download software from the publisher directly. You run the risk of downloading software packaged with harmful software if you download it from anywhere else.

  1. Use Antivirus

Antivirus software, not merely a VPN, is what you should get if you want protection against malware. Software for antivirus purposes is created expressly for this. If malware is on your computer, you will get an alert and stop using the malware host.

  1. Avoid Clicking on Suspicious Links

Never click on a link that seems off. By opening a link, you can download malware or visit a dangerous website. 

How to Deal with Malware on your Device

If possible, you should attempt backing up your private data after discovering spyware on your device. Next, turn off the internet on your device and research to determine what sort of virus you have. You should use a different, malware-free gadget for this purpose. After that, run antivirus applications on your device to remove the malware. Then, install security software once your device is clean to fend off future threats.


Malware is code designed to damage your computer or steal personal data. It comes in various forms, such as ransomware, spyware, viruses, adware, keyloggers, rootkits, etc.

While virtual private networks (VPNs) are great for keeping your data and connections safe online, their design prevents them from warding off malware. Hence, using your VPN with antivirus software is a smart move.