Inundated as we are with reports of high-profile cybercrimes, the terms Hacking, Malware and Phishing have become household terms. While these activities are significant threats to our work and personal life, few of us take the time to understand each one and the differences between them. The cyber threat landscape grows to be increasingly vast and complex at an extraordinary rate. Getting ahead and keeping yourself safe starts with understanding what to look out for. This blog explores the meaning of hacking, malware, and phishing, and how they differ from each other.
What is Hacking?
Hacking is an attempt to exploit or compromise the security of a target computer, device, or network. It’s an umbrella term defining a broad spectrum of technologies, practices, and techniques, including both using malware and phishing. A hacker’s motivations can include financial gain, impersonation, reputational harm, and more.
Unlike Hollywood movies, not all hackers are world-class coders furiously typing away at a computer. In fact, most hacking attempts involve fooling victims into giving up their personal information or downloading malicious software.
On the other end of the spectrum are “brute-force” attacks. This is when a hacker uses an automated tool to trial for possible vulnerabilities such as trying as many username and password combinations as possible until gaining access to the system.
What is Malware?
Malware is a general term for any malicious software used to harm other computers or their users. There are many different types of malwares that work in different ways and end goals. Malware is deployable to a victim’s computer or network in several ways. Two of the most common are via email attachments or tricking users into downloading software from a publicly hosted website. However, they can also spread through hardware like USBs and network connections.
Some of the most common types of malwares today are:Ransomware:
Malware that encrypts users’ files so that they lose access to them. The attacker then extorts the victim for money by threatening to delete or leak their data or files. They are among the most common and damaging malware types today and have been involved in numerous high-profile incidents.Trojans:
This malware is often disguised as legitimate software. When installed or opened, it can create a connection to the attacker’s server to download even more malware to the target computer. It can also be used for other things, like redirecting users to malicious websites.Cryptominer:
This type of malware runs in the background on the victim’s computer without them knowing. Its purpose is to “mine” cryptocurrency for its creator, using the processing power of the victim’s computer.
Most of the malware today contains characteristics of different types of malwares to be more effective. For example, the victim might initially download a Trojan that downloads ransomware or a Cryptominer. It can then infect the connected networks to other computers and devices.
What is Phishing?
Phishing is a common type of internet scam where an attacker sends a fraudulent email to unsuspecting victims. The email is designed to look like it’s coming from a legitimate source. By fooling recipients, attackers hope to get victims to give up sensitive information, download malware, or direct them to a fake website.
Attackers begin by using a familiar email address, branding, and wording, often using a disguise like a legitimate business or individual. Hiding ransomware in email attachments, such as a Microsoft Word file is a popular strategy of cybercriminals. As such, phishing is often used as an initial technique to launch other cyber-attacks. According to a report by IBM, it is still the top initial attack vector behind 33% of all cyber security incidents. In other words, a successful phishing email can lead to a hack or malware attack.
Although cyberthreat is growing at a skyrocketing rate, keep in mind that both individuals and companies can easily prevent most of the threats by regularly updating antivirus softwares, use a VPN encrypted network, and keep a diversified password management system.
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