What Is Malware? Your Guide to Malicious Software and VPNs

What Is Malware?

what is malware

Malware attacks are becoming more widespread annually. These cyber-security breaches have caused losses worth billions of dollars in their wake. For example, there are about 5.4 billion malware attacks worldwide annually. Furthermore, estimates put the reactionary increase in cyber-security at $8 billion by 2025. 

Notably, hackers target both private individuals and professional organizations. However, it seems that malware attacks hit corporations the most. But despite all these issues, many people still don’t understand what malware is. Consequently, they cannot adequately protect their computer networks from malware attacks. 

In this article, we’ll explain all that you need to know about malware. In addition, you’ll learn how to protect your systems from malware attacks, and the cyber-security role VPNs can play. 

What Is Malware?

Malware is malicious computer files or programs. Their goal usually is to intentionally disrupt the operations of a computer server or an entire network. In addition, the malicious software (malware) may be created to cause several other types of damage, such as:

  • Steal and leak private data
  • Access unauthorized files or systems 
  • Lockout individuals from their systems or data
  • Interfere with the ordinary operations of a computer network

It’s noteworthy that not every software that harms a computer system is malware. For instance, software bugs can create problems that resemble the effects of malware. Furthermore, malware has a more damaging impact. 

How Does Malware Work?

All forms of malware follow the same pattern. Usually, the computer operator downloads and installs the software. Then, it infects the system and starts damaging vital components. 

However, the computer user rarely downloads the malware intentionally. Instead, they often set this process in motion by mistake. The person may have taken a step that they have taken many times before, such as clicking an email link or visiting a malware-infected website. 

  • Other ways malware can get on a computer network include:
  • File sharing activities 
  • Free software downloads 
  • Cloned websites 
  • Malware embedded in downloaded files 
  • Through hardware such as flash drives and other input devices 

Whatever the case, once the malware is downloaded, it starts working towards achieving the hacker’s objectives. At this stage, we can then differentiate the various types of malware based on their goals. 

Types of Malware

Malware is a general name for several types of cyber-security threats. In this section, we unbundle the concept and explain the different types of malware. Each class of malware has unique features, and hackers deploy them for various reasons. 

Generally, there are two broad groups of malware. You can distinguish malware through its spreading mechanism and the effect of the malware on the target network. Depending on how the malware spreads, we have three types of malware. We explain them below. 


Worms are malware that exists alone and reproduces themselves. In addition, worms spread quickly from computer to computer while working on all infected systems. Worms may be designed to download further malware or stay on and harm the host computer. 


As the name suggests, Trojans get on your device while masquerading as genuine apps or links. Once you install the Trojan, the malware infects your system and starts performing the hacker’s intentions while spreading across your network.


Finally, viruses are a type of malware. But many people use viruses and malware interchangeably, even though they aren’t the same. So all viruses are malware, but not all malware are viruses. 

A computer virus functions much like biological viruses. They infect the computer system (host), replicate themselves, and spread to other networks. All these while, the virus will attack the system and wreak havoc. 

You can also distinguish malware by what they achieve after infecting networks. So, we have these types of malware:


Ransomware hackers function like kidnappers. They hijack your system, lock you out via encryption, and demand ransoms. Only after paying the ransom can they grant you access to the computer network, usually through a dedicated key.

However, ransomware hackers don’t always keep to this promise. They can take your money and refuse to release the decryption key. Therefore, ransomware cybercriminals can continuously extort their victims or permanently lock them out of their systems. 


Spyware is malware for spying on unsuspecting victims. So, cybercriminals use this tool to extract and exploit information from people. Essentially, the hacker wants to know what you’re doing online while gathering your personal data, such as:

  • Email addresses
  • Credit card details 
  • Passwords 
  • Keystroke data through keyloggers 


Adware floods you with unwanted ads on various issues. So, this malware redirects you to advertisements that require you to take further action. If you download the files in the ad links, you’ll most likely be downloading another malware. 


This is one of the most challenging types of malware to detect. Hackers use this tool to access a computer system or network remotely. Additionally, this malware grants the cybercriminal administrator access to your system to execute their plans under your nose. 


Scareware scares victims into taking actions that harm their systems. For example, have you ever seen a pop-up screaming that you’ve been infected with a virus? Usually, the pop-up includes a link for downloading the remedy for your “problem” – an anti-virus application. However, hackers sometimes embed these links with malware. 

How to Detect Malware Infection

Like many computer issues, you can detect when your device or network has been attacked by malware. However, only ransomware hackers expressly announce that they’ve compromised your network. For other types of malware, you’ll have to look for pointers to determine when you’ve been compromised. 

So, here are the signs of a malware infection:

Smaller Storage Capacity

Once your device’s storage becomes smaller, run a malware check. Such reduction may be because the malware unilaterally downloaded extra files onto your device. 

Slower Operating Speeds 

Malware also takes up processing speed that your gadget usually uses for other purposes. In addition, such malware programs may place heavy demands on your processor. Consequently, there’ll be fewer resources for your other activities, making your device run slower. 

Disabled Security Software 

Malware can be strong enough to disable security software on your system. So, if your “always on” security software suddenly goes off, you should watch for malware. 

Other signs of malware activity include:

  • Frequent ads and pop-ups
  • Your devices often crash or freeze up 
  • New icons and apps that you didn’t install appear on your device 
  • Your battery gets low faster than usual 
  • You exceed your data limits quicker 
  • Unfamiliar error messages show when you want to perform certain activities 

How to Protect Yourself from Malware 

You can take several steps to rid yourself of malware or prevent malware infections. We explain some of them below. 

Anti-Virus Software 

Anti-virus software is the most popular protection against malware. These tools are designed to frequently scan applications, websites, and devices daily for malware. So, if you get on an infected website, the software will notify you. 

Some anti-viruses won’t allow your browsers to open an insecure link or install an unsafe app unless you override these settings. Once anti-viruses detect malware on your system, they can also run a deep clean to root out the virus. Getting reliable anti-virus software is thus necessary. 

Preventing malware infection is easier than rooting out malware, though. Some anti-virus apps may not be strong enough to remove different types of malware. Moreover, some malware would have already caused significant damage before you discover and eliminate the threat.

Yet again, suppose a party steals your data with spyware. Discovering the hack later may be inconsequential if they have already exploited the information. Thus, it’s best to learn these tips for avoiding malware attacks. 

  • Continually update your device and application operating systems. Updates often mean that the app makers have detected and fixed security lapses in the software or gadget. So, continuing on old versions exposes you to danger. 
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi networks without a VPN.
  • Carefully examine pop-ups before clicking on them. Do not click any download links you weren’t expecting. 
  • Don’t read suspicious or unexpected emails and attachments.
  • Be careful when clicking on links attached to files, emails, and other messages. 
  • Only engage in file sharing over trusted and secure connections.
  • Always ensure you type in the correct URLs to prevent getting on cloned websites. 

Can a VPN Protect You from Malware?

Yes, VPNs can protect your gadgets and networks from malware, but not directly. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are touted as cyber-security tools, but they primarily allow you to access the internet anonymously. So, you can change your device’s IP address and browse without being tracked by third parties. 

However, VPNs cannot keep malware and viruses off your gadgets. If you download harmful materials or click infected links, you’ll most likely get the malware and harm your system. The VPN will merely keep all these activities private. 

But some VPNs have adware and malware protection. So, they scan websites and apps to block harmful sites, thus preventing malware infection. These aren’t part of the usual VPN features. Instead, they are VPN extras that provide the protection traditional VPNs cannot offer. Therefore, if you want your VPN to protect you from malware, you have to choose a subscriber that provides malware protection. 

Final Thoughts

Although malware is one of the most dangerous cyber-security threats, many people know little about it. This article has explained malware and the various types of malware. But, most importantly, if you follow the tips above, you can protect your gadgets and networks from malware. Finally, you can get a top VPN with anti-malware for extra security.