What is malware?

The word “malware” is a combination of the words malicious and software. The word malware is used to describe software that is designed expressly for criminal or unethical purposes. These purposes include a range of illicit behavior like stealing information, corrupting systems, locking access to essential applications or devices, and physical hardware destruction.

Since malware comes in so many different forms and is used in many ways, there are popular terms used to describe each variation. Spyware, ransomware, Trojan horses, rootkits, and viruses are some of the most popular malware types. Malware names and descriptions are typically based on how the virus functions or spreads. For example, spyware (as defined below) is a kind of malware that secretly tracks or monitors a victim’s activities.

How is Malware Used?

Malware functions just like legitimate software, only it is designed specifically to do something harmful. Early versions of malware were often created as pranks, but the criminal applications were made clear when pranks turned destructive. Malware programs use a wide variety of techniques to remain undetectable. More devious, well-designed viruses can surreptitiously infect a system and take measures to prevent operating systems or antivirus programs from detecting suspicious activity or files.

All useful malwares will start by infecting a device or system in order to gain access. How an attacker chooses to exploit that access will depend on the type of malware used. Below is a list of primary ways that malware is used, and the moniker associated with each type:

Purpose: Monitor Activity


The term Spyware is used to refer to several different kinds of malware, including adware, Trojans, keyloggers, and even tracking cookies. Generally, spyware is software that allows surveillance and recording or tracking of a user’s activity without their knowledge or consent. While some kinds of spyware are very annoying, they remain relatively benign. For example, adware might not present an immediate security threat, but it increases the risk of a security incident and can cause substantial reductions in system performance, not to mention constant user frustration. However, other types of spyware might allow attackers to view and record private webcam or remote meeting calls.
Purpose: Restrict Access


Ransomware is a particularly harmful variant of malware that targets businesses and individuals with tactics that can cause significant financial losses, operational downtime, reputational damage and even personal embarrassment. Although there are many kinds of ransomware, they are typically used to financially extort the victim by stealing, encrypting or blocking access to sensitive information until a ransom payment is remitted.
Purpose: Acquire Credentials

Trojan Horse

Trojan horses (or Trojans) are one of the most commonly used malware types. Often spread through social engineering attacks, they have a variety of capabilities and are typically used to target sensitive personal information. Trojans are also used as a way of gaining access to a system or device so that a secondary malware can be deployed, such as ransomware.
Purpose: Persistent Access


Rootkits allow attackers to retain privileged access to protected systems disguising itself or hiding to make detection virtually impossible. This access can be exploited for numerous criminal purposes. Rootkits can be so severe that only reinstalling operating systems or replacing firmware components can assure total system repair.
Purpose: Disruption & Destruction


Even those with almost no technical knowledge have probably heard of a computer virus. “Virus” is frequently used as a catchall term for a harmful program that affects electronic devices. Within the security community, however, the definition of a virus is more specific. Viruses usually have one unique characteristic: they are designed to propagate themselves. Some viruses attack specific data by corrupting or deleting files, and others prove to be highly inconvenient but less damaging. One of the earliest computer viruses was built to simply alarm affected users by displaying a pop-up message that their computer had been compromised.

How can it hurt my business?

The damage that malware causes to businesses depends on the type of malware used in an attack. Negative impacts include:

  • Proprietary data loss
  • Customer data loss
  • Stalled or slowed business operations

  • Brand damage
  • Device destruction

Malware Statistics

in 2017


User computers were subjected to at least one type of malware attack

  • Browser-based vulnerabilities are the largest contributor to malware attacks.
  • Over 15 million new malware variants were observed online in 2017.
  • Trojans remain the most commonly used type of malware.

  • Windows users are still the most at risk of suffering a malware attack.
  • Cyber criminals are increasingly using “fileless” techniques to initially compromise a system instead of relying on malicious .exe files for installation. Use of this strategy will likely increase throughout 2018.

How can cyber insurance help?

Virtually all businesses employ applications, services and other programs that require an Internet connection. This increased global connectivity will continue to present increasing threats to businesses of all sizes through human error, vulnerable systems and clever attackers armed with the latest malware. Since the likelihood of suffering a successful malware attack exponentially increases the more cyber-dependent business day to day functions become, it is critical that business owners seek out all methods of providing protection for their companies.

Cyber security insurance can prove invaluable in the event of a data breach or other interruptive incident that exposes sensitive data like customer information. Like other forms of liability insurance, cyber insurance safeguards businesses and their owners from the fallout caused by a breach, accidental data exposure or act of cyber aggression.

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Running a business is challenging enough without having to worry about cyber liabilities and lawsuits. You are one click away from getting the vital coverage your business needs.