Malware is nothing new for today's users. Many understand that there are droves of dangerous cybercriminals just waiting for the opportunity to steal their personal information. However, many may not know the specifics involved: what kinds of infections are out there, how they can spot them, and how they can be avoided in the future.
Recording-breaking malware statistics
During the first quarter of this year, hackers broke all previous records with the creation of over 15 million new malware samples, according to Panda Security. The PandaLabs quarterly report found that more than 160,000 unique malware strains are being established every day.
"Over these months, levels of cybercrime have continued to rise," noted Luis Corrons, PandaLabs technical director. "In fact, we have witnessed some of the biggest data thefts since the creation of the Internet, with millions of users affected."
The report stated that there are several environments in which malware is more prevalent than others, including on Android devices and in social networks. These circles have seen an increasing abundance of hacking activity, including infections that subscribe users to premium-rate SMS services without permission. Overall, though, Trojans are the most popular form of new malware samples being seen this year, with 71.85 percent of all new stains, and accounting for 79.90 percent of all infection cases.
Top malware samples to watch for
With the emergence of so many new malware samples, there are a few that stand out in the cybercrime environment. One such infection is CryptoLocker, which PandaLabs pointed out is still encrypting the files of a number of users and demanding ransom for their return. According to CBR contributor Duncan MacRae, victims have until the specified deadline to pay a price for file decryption, and if not paid, hackers will offer their services for an even higher ransom.
One Trojan sample making waves in the cybersphere is Alureon, or TDSS, a bootkit with a range of malicious capabilities. MacRae noted that TDSS can intercept traffic on a network, sifting through the information to steal victims' usernames, passwords and payment card details. Many TDSS infections have occurred when users are tricked into manually installing the malicious software.
Zeus, a long-standing malware strain first discovered in 2007, is also still a prevalent threat today. The sample is a botnet toolkit used to create infections that can gather victims' data, banking information and steal identities.
"Zeus is particularly difficult to deal with [as] it is not just one botnet – it can create others to steal any data stored on your computer," MacRae wrote.
Top infection symptoms
While some malware samples, like CryptoLocker, make themselves known through an on-screen notification to its victims, many others prefer to fly under the radar and can therefore be much more difficult to spot. There are, however, several symptoms that can point to a device being infected by malware.
According to Power Solution contributor Dina Dadian, one factor that can signal a computer virus is when devices appear to act on their own. For example, if the CD-ROM tray of a computer opens on its own, it could be a sign of infection.
"If your hardware – computer, printer, etc. – started action up on its own, without you requesting any action by means of keyboard or mouse, you are likely having a virus in your computer system," Dadian wrote.
Other top symptoms include a device that is slow to startup, or has crawling performance throughout its operation. Malware infections can cause a computer or mobile device to struggle to carry out typical actions as they can overload the system with their own directions and requests.
While it is no doubt beneficial to be able to identify an infection as early on as possible, Dadian noted that at that point, it is often too late.
"Remember, when your computer demonstrates the symptoms of the computer virus, it is usually too late: You can just hope that damage that was done to your computer or the whole network is not irreversible," Dadian stated.
Top malware prevention strategies
In this frame of mind, it is better that users are proactive with their malware infections, instead of waiting for infection symptoms to appear.
TechRepublic contributor Erik Eckel noted that there are several practical steps individuals can take to prevent a malware infection, including the installation and use of anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-spyware software. Furthermore, keeping these programs updated and as current as possible will go a long way toward ensuring that the device is protected against the newest malware strains.
Additionally, performing regular scans of the system can mitigate the risk of any infections falling through the cracks.
"Occasionally, virus and spyware threats escape a system's active protective engines and infect a system," Eckel wrote. "The sheer number and volume of potential and new threats make it inevitable that particularly inventive infections will outsmart security software. Regardless of the infection source, enabling a complete, daily scan of a system's entire hard drive adds another layer of protection."