How to prevent malware attacks

How to prevent malware attacks

You're a well-respected American professor and consultant for government agencies, deeply involved in national security. In the middle of your packed schedule, an email arrives from what seems like a respected colleague asking for your thoughts on their article.

Flattered, you open the attached PDF, but the text is garbled. Assuming it's a simple glitch, you ask for a clearer copy but instead get a link to a "decryption" tool. Without hesitation, you click on it, only to lose access to all your data—putting your contacts at risk, too.

This breach is the work of Cold River, tied to the Russian state, using "SPICA" malware. They've moved from phishing to malware via PDFs, targeting professionals like you for espionage. "SPICA" gives them deep access to steal sensitive information, showcasing the need for constant cybersecurity vigilance.

Key takeaways

  • Malware can harm computers, networks, and devices, putting your data and money at risk. 

  • Different malware types, like ransomware, Trojans, spyware, adware, and worms, each pose their unique threats. 

  • It spreads via phishing emails, malvertising, exploit kits, and social media scams, taking advantage of software flaws. 

  • To spot malware, watch for slow computers, unexpected data sends, and strange file changes. 

  • Fighting malware means using strong endpoint protection, keeping software up-to-date, and educating your team. 

  • NordLayer's security solutions greatly lower the chance of malware attacks, helping to keep your information safe.

What is malware?

Malware is software that's made to damage or misuse computers, networks, and devices. It sneaks into systems through weak spots or tricks, like phishing emails, to do things it shouldn't. This includes taking private data, harming how systems work, or letting hackers in. Malware is risky because it can cause big money problems, leak private info, and interrupt important services, affecting everyone from people to governments.

Getting malware attacks is cheap, too. By March 2023, top-notch malware services were going for up to $4,500 for every 1,000 installs from dark marketplaces.

Types of malware

In 2023, we've seen a rise in malware that threatens both people and companies in unique ways.

Types of malware
  • Ransomware is a type of malware that locks data and asks for payment to unlock it. It got worse, also now demanding ransom in cryptocurrency. Ransomware attacks jumped 70% by September 2023 from the year before. The MOVEit software breach affected over 2,300 organizations, revealing private info like health records. The "cl0p" gang's attack shows how advanced ransomware has become.

  • Trojans pretend to be safe software to steal data or take control remotely. They now target PCs, Macs, and mobile devices more than ever. Downloading risky content or ignoring updates can invite Trojans, reminding us to stay alert and keep our software fresh.

  • Spyware secretly collects personal details like what you type and where you go online. This risk highlights the need for safe web habits and spyware protection tools.

  • Adware might be less harmful but annoys you with unwanted ads and might track you online. This shows why using ad blockers and valuing privacy online matters.

  • Worms spread through networks by finding weak spots in software, stealing data, or hogging bandwidth. This points to the urgent need to update systems and secure networks.

To deal with these malware types, keeping network security practices sharp, educating ourselves and others, and strengthening our cyber defenses are key.

How is malicious software distributed?

Malware distribution has gotten trickier, using both tech smarts and cunning tricks to sneak into systems and trick people. Here's a rundown of common ways it spreads:

  1. Phishing emails. Simple but effective, these emails trick people into clicking harmful links or attachments, often looking like they're from real companies or friends.

  2. Malvertising. This method puts malware into ads on legitimate websites. Just visiting the site might infect a user; no clicks are needed.

  3. Exploit kits. These tools find and use weaknesses in software or systems to slip malware in when someone visits a compromised site.

  4. Social media scams. Fake profiles or messages on social platforms can spread malware, using tempting offers or urgent warnings to lure clicks to dangerous sites.

  5. Supply chain attacks. Here, malware is hidden in software before it even gets to the user, aiming to hit many targets at once.

  6. RDP attacks. More people working remotely means more malware attacks on the Remote Desktop Protocol, where thieves use stolen details to get into systems and plant malware.

  7. File-sharing services. Malware disguised as regular files on sharing sites can trick users into downloading harm.

  8. Spear phishing and whaling. These personalized malware attacks target specific people or companies or go after big fish with the aim of a big payoff.

  9. Zero-day vulnerabilities. Unknown flaws in software are gold for cybercriminals, letting them attack before a fix is out.

  10. Mobile malware apps. Bad apps in app stores can look legit but are really malware in disguise, aiming to infect phones and tablets.

How to recognize malware

For businesses, spotting malware quickly is key to keeping their data safe.

Look out for these signs that might suggest malware presence in your operating system.

Signs of malware infection

Strange system actions

  • Devices or networks slow down might mean malware is using up resources.

  • Systems crash or show errors, which could be malware messing with them.

  • Programs open or install by themselves might be due to malware.

Odd network use

  • Unexpected data sent out could be malware stealing sensitive information.

  • New, unauthorized network connections might be a sign of malware.

Changes in files

  • Files change or vanish without user action, pointing to malware.

  • New files or programs that users didn't install appear, indicating malware.

Alerts from security software

  • Antivirus gives warnings; it might be spotting malware.

  • A firewall gives out unusual alerts about blocked connections or port access attempts, signaling malware.

More spam and phishing

A rise in phishing emails can show a malware attack is underway.

Weird browser behavior

Browser redirects to odd sites, home page changes, or more pop-ups can indicate malware.

To detect malware, you need:

  • Scan systems regularly with the latest antivirus and anti-malware tools, especially after installing new software.

  • Watch network traffic for any strange activity with monitoring tools.

  • Train employees to recognize and report malware signs.

  • Update all software to close off vulnerabilities.

  • Use advanced protection like ATP solutions for better defense against malware.

Spotting malware early helps businesses react fast to reduce harm. Having a clear plan for when you suspect malware is crucial.

How to prevent malware

To keep businesses safe from malware, a well-rounded cybersecurity strategy is essential. Here are the top seven steps businesses can take:

Malware prevention checklist

1. Use advanced endpoint protection

Opt for antivirus and EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) solutions that detect and neutralize malware using machine learning. These tools scan for unusual activities and help effectively remove malware. An EDR system, for example, could prevent a ransomware attack by identifying and isolating the threat before it encrypts any files. 

2. Update software regularly

Ensure your operating system, applications, and network devices are always updated. Outdated software is a prime target for hackers. The WannaCry ransomware incident is a stark reminder: it exploited unpatched Windows systems worldwide. Apply updates promptly for malware prevention.

3. Train your employees

Educate your staff about the dangers of malware and the importance of verifying new software sources before downloading. Practical training sessions can reduce malware risks by teaching employees to recognize phishing scams, a common malware delivery method. Remind everyone to scrutinize email senders and not to click on suspicious links, which can prevent many potential breaches.

4. Set up secure email gateways

Deploy email security solutions that filter phishing scams and dangerous links in advance. Use sandboxing technologies that safely analyze dubious email attachments. This step helps stop malware at the entry point.

5. Segment your network

Divide your network into segments to better manage and contain potential malware spread to other computers. Implementing strict access controls ensures that users have access only to necessary resources. That limits the impact if data is compromised. 

Network segmentation proved effective during the NotPetya malware outbreak, as it helped contain the spread within segmented parts of the network, minimizing overall damage.

6. Back up data and plan for incidents

Back up your data and have a plan ready for any incidents. Always keep important resources backed up in places separate from your main network, and keep updating your plan for dealing with cyber threats.

Having backups means you can get back on track without paying off ransomware, keeping your data and money safe.

7. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Add MFA for better security. It helps keep your operating system safe, even if someone guesses your password. Using MFA makes it much harder for hackers to break in, as they can't easily bypass this extra security step.

How NordLayer can help

NordLayer offers strong tools for businesses to fight malware with advanced threat prevention and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA).

Zero Trust best practices

NordLayer proactively fights threats to keep your data safe. It uses tools and rules that protect every part of your network.

This includes:

  • Stopping advanced threats. NordLayer uses multiple security layers to protect against complex malicious software and phishing.

  • Protecting the network. It keeps your network safe, guarding against threats from outside, no matter where your devices are.

  • Quick incident response. If there's a breach, NordLayer acts fast to limit damage and keep your data safe.

NordLayer's ZTNA means not trusting any connection by default. This method checks every access attempt carefully, offering:

  • Secure access and segmentation. NordLayer makes sure users can only reach what they need to, keeping your data safer.

  • Lower insider threat risk. By controlling access tightly, NordLayer reduces the chance of data breaches.

  • Remote work security. NordLayer's ZTNA protects remote workers, giving them secure access to what they need quickly.

  • A better alternative to VPNs. NordLayer's ZTNA is a safer option, allowing remote users access only to necessary apps that protect your internal resources.

Using NordLayer's strategies, businesses can protect themselves against malicious software, keeping their operations secure and running smoothly.

Contact our sales for further assistance.

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