What Malware Really Is?

The term malware stands for malicious software, and usually defines a broad range of intrusive, hostile software applications. Although there are multiple pieces of software that can harm your computer because they are poorly written or allow easy access to the users’ systems, the term only covers software that has been deliberately designed to disrupt the normal computing activity.

It might look confusing, but some computer worms are allegedly designed to help the user. This was the case of the Nachi family of worms, a research project carried at Xerox PARC. The worm attempted to download and install available patches form the Microsoft website, in order to patch some known security vulnerabilities. However, it would not notify the user of its actions, and sometimes would disrupt users’ activity by generating high amounts of network traffic and rebooting the machine as part of the update process.

Therefore, buggy applications are not malware, since their security faults have not been implemented on purpose.

Malware is an umbrella-term that covers a broad range of harmful (or potentially harmful) software applications, such as viruses, worms, backdoors, Trojans, keyloggers, password stealers, script viruses, rootkits, macro viruses, spyware or even adware. While in the IT industry’s early days threats were labeled as either viruses or Trojan horses, the rapid escalation of technology called for a general term to cover all the above-mentioned threats.


Spreading Malware – A Business that Brings Billions

Malware applications have initially been conceived as practical jokes, pranks or even as experiments to demonstrate artificial intelligence.

Things have dramatically shifted lately, as malware writers don’t want glory anymore, but rather financial gains. They have started to pay extra attention to hiding the malware from both the user and antivirus software, in order to be able to exploit it for as much as possible. Malware authors invented new methods to conceal and protect their malicious creations, and make them undetectable for specialized antivirus software.

Writing and spreading malware is a business that’s worth billions of dollars per year. According to a report issued by research company Computer Economics, the direct damage attributed to malware totaled $20 billion globally in 2007.

Modern malware writers exploit their creations to quietly use infected machines, and then send spam messages, steal banking credentials, or leverage their revenue by advertisement click fraud. More than that, corporate espionage also brings constant revenue, as malware opens backdoors into the organization’s network.

About the author


Bogdan Botezatu is living his second childhood at Bitdefender as senior e-threat analyst. When he is not documenting sophisticated strains of malware or writing removal tools, he teaches extreme sports such as surfing the web without protection or rodeo with wild Trojan horses. He believes that most things in life can be beat with strong heuristics and that antimalware research is like working for a secret agency: you need to stay focused at all times, but you get all the glory when you catch the bad guys.

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