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Malware and Spyware : What are they?

Everyday we hear about cases of malware or spyware, whether on our own computers or on our friends'. This is a common occurrence in the IT world; in fact, it's more common than people would want to admit. So just what is spyware and malware and how does it affect us?

Spyware is a program installed on your computer that allows someone else to monitor your activities on it. Malware is a program that may allow someone to monitor you but in addition to that, there is a evil intent or action. In most cases, this involves deleting your data or turning it into a form that can be recovered but only if you pay money. You can associate the words “cracking” and “hacking” with such activities.

Many people think that spyware and malware only exists on Microsoft Windows computers but this understanding was only true in the 1990s and early 2000s. Now all computers, whether they run Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS and Android can be affected by spyware and malware. The only difference is to what degree each computer or operating system is affected.

Microsoft Windows has the largest installed base by far of any operating system and so it has the most number of people writing spyware and malware for it. iOS which runs on your iPhones and iPads also has a lot of people using it, but because Apple locks down the operating system to a great extent, we see much less instances of iPhones and iPads being hacked.

The danger for people running Macs is that false sense of invulnerability. Just like that “Look ma, no hands” person, the Internet can be a dangerous place for the uninitiated. Everyone, regardless of the type of computer they are using, should assume that they are at risk and take steps to protect themselves.

Fun fact : previously, hacking didn't have a negative meaning like it does now. Cracking then means why hacking means now, but hacking then meant to make something do in addition to what it was designed to do originally. This is why we say “crack passwords” - we try to guess the passwords based on some algorithm or brute force. We, however, hack an Raspberry Pi, to make it run some home automation software (such as OpenHAB) to turn on our home lights. The original meaning of hack has fallen into disuse and hacking has now come to mean the same thing as cracking.

In my next post, we will look into what Windows users can do to protect themselves.

blog/malware.txt · Last modified: 2018/04/05 14:48 by mchang