Difference Between Malware And Adware

Adware programs are a variant of malware that persistently displays marketing information as pop-ups to users, enticing them to follow or click a link and install malicious applications. Adware is created to raise revenue for developers by hosting advertisements but can also be manipulated into a more dangerous malware.

What is malware?

Malware, shortened from the terminology “Malicious software,” is a broad terminology used to refer to a variety of software, destructive files, program, or code designed to compromise or damage a computing resource (device, application, service, protocol, or user). This depends on the medium of execution and the intended purpose. This adversely impacts an authority’s confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Common malware variants are viruses, spyware, adware, ransomware, rootkits, worm, or Trojan horse. 

How does malware spread? 

Malware requires an attack vector to deliver it to the target resource. Viruses propagate by attaching their code onto removable media, files, or attachments. User interaction, like clicking to execute them, is needed. Email is another vector that delivers malware to unsuspecting individuals as phishing attempts. It can also be sent to targeted individuals and organizations in a tailored attack known as spear phishing. Worms self-propagates over the network using bandwidth. Spyware and adware programs are stealthily installed onto a device without user consent or knowledge during another installation.    

Ever wondered why people sit down and create malware? 

Many reasons exist for creating malware. To start, there is money in distributing malware as a service! Another instance is the money realized from ransom; this is a fee paid when ransomware is deployed and encrypts a target’s files on a device, rendering it unavailable for use. However, paying a ransom is not a guarantee that access will be restored. 

Malware is also used as a weapon of war among countries and is referred to as cyberwarfare. It alludes to the fact that malware is cheap to acquire, deploy and re-use with little effort and expense. It also requires less manpower to deploy than the military! National resources commonly targeted for destruction include nuclear resources, electricity, and oil pipeline distribution systems. Examples on the internet can be cited in the Stuxnet malware, which was deployed and physically destroyed the Iranian nuclear facilities at Natanz. Cyber-warfare leaves little or no human casualties compared to civil war. Attributing the attack to any known attackers is difficult and easy to deploy.

Malware is also used to gain unauthorized access to resources like databases and steal key information, company secrets, and money. Stolen data is used to create fake accounts used in swindling money. Malware can be used to force a target to change a stand on a political or religious ideology through hacktivism. This method works by redirecting massive traffic to a target resource rendering it unavailable (aka a denial of service attack).

Wondering where malware comes from? Guess no more. 

Malware attacks can be targeted or accidental. Common sources of malware come from files and applications downloaded from the internet and email. Some applications disguise themselves as legit software like antivirus applications. They, however, have malicious links embedded or checked to download and install alongside them. These are known as drive-by downloads. 

Other sources of malware are legit applications compromised at the time of release due to the presence of a vulnerability. These are known as zero-day attacks. Hackers inject malware into application code used to update databases. If used without proper validation of inputs, malware compromises the database. 

Removable devices are used across devices and are a common source of malware. Common games and videos shared on instant messaging apps are known to be embedded with malware that infects too. File sharing applications are another common network source of malware that propagates in the form of media. A key example occurred to the CEO of Amazon, who was compromised via a social media malware attack. 

Indicators of the presence of malware on systems include corruption and deletion of data, files, applications, destruction of hardware, denial of service of authority, and poor performance resulting from slowed-down operations of resources.    

Elements of modern malware

Malware today has outstanding characteristics that are indicated in the level of cyber-attacks experienced today. People use technological advances, and the processes involved have contributed significantly to advancements in modern malware. This makes it difficult – cyber

attackers are equally skilled as the defenders. 

The key characteristic is the ability for malicious code to morph or change itself from one format to another to evade detection by antimalware signatures. They also can detect the environment in which they are and conduct their creator for an update to regain full functionality as an exploit. Another behavior is the ability to maintain a footprint on a target by hiding many elements of its code in various file systems on a target system. This is called persistence. The code also can communicate with the server as a call-back function to communicate if it’s being reverse engineered and/ or subsequently call for updates to regain functionality. 

Obfuscation is the ability of a malicious code to hide or disguise its capability as a malicious code to avoid action by the antimalware. A new term known as file-less malware does not contain an active malicious file downloaded onto the target host. Malware exists only in a system’s RAM to avoid being detected. 

Adware vs. malware! But what is adware?  

Funny, unexpected banner advertisements pop on the screen and are intended to entice a user to click them. The pop-ups are disguised as a product or service to purchase in their interest. Unaware to the users, these are tricks malicious code developers use to get users to click and install the code embedded in the links. This is called adware. The malicious code downloads and installs itself onto the device following a user’s interaction, like clicking and visiting untrusted sites that host malware. 

Adware –the money-making malware

Adware is a malware designed to mine a user’s lifestyle information and send it to developers. When infected by adware, new tabs are known to open up in searches by hijacking the browser. You get redirected to unintended sites that host malware. There are also notable automatic add-ons injected into any browsers with vulnerabilities on the targeted device. 

It embeds itself in user interfaces and directly interacts with authority, causing disruption; This annoys users and steals and sends sensitive user credentials to their developers, who use this information to create suitable exploits and conceal them as advertising links to relevant sites the user visits.; This redirects users to malicious sites that host more malware and install or update themselves through user interaction. 

The developers earn revenue from the advertisement links and the extent of malware distributed. User interaction is required by clicking on the malicious links or sites to execute with the malicious sites; This also poses the risk of personal information being sold and used for illegal purposes, like creating fake profiles for criminal use and identity theft.  

The difference between Adware vs. Spyware 

Adware programs are a variant of malware that persistently displays marketing information as pop-ups to users, enticing them to follow or click a link and install malicious applications. Adware is created to raise revenue for developers by hosting advertisements but can also be manipulated into a more dangerous malware. The purpose of adware is to redirect users to an external marketing site. The sites visited are the common source of malicious software that can self-install malware without the user’s intervention. Adware presence is indicated by slow performance. This is because the system keeps on struggling to load malicious code subsequently.  

Spyware has a characteristic behavior of tracking user activities without their consent or knowledge. They install Keyloggers and backdoors on target devices for monitoring user activities, stealing credentials, browsing history, financial transaction details, and system configurations. The information collected is shared or sold to third parties in the black market or dark web. Infected systems slow down performance. 

The Difference between Malware and Adware

The terms malware and virus are sometimes used interchangeably. Malware is a program designed to disrupt or destroy a computing system. It’s distributed via emails or software installations and replicates itself. Adware is a type of malware that displays advertisement windows and denies one privacy. Not all adware programs are malicious.

Malware vs. Viruses: What’s the Difference?

Malware is a broader term that refers to a variety of programs that are illegal and intended to cause harm. A virus is a variant of malware that appends itself on media for propagation and impacts a resource by corrupting or deleting information. It requires human functionality to execute and is designed to steal personal data and destroy files, folders, and applications. Viruses spread by attaching their code to storage and media files, downloadable applications, infected websites, email links and attachments, and even networking devices. The damage’s extent depends on the adversary’s exposure level and the complexity of attack tools or exploits.

How to protect against malware

A good antimalware product should be installed to detect and protect against all malware attacks. It should also be configured well for proper functionality. Malware will at one time manage to reach a network. Users should be denied administrative accounts to minimize the execution of applications. Security settings in browsers should aim to block malicious content and protect the systems, networks, and users from unauthorized access. Logs and browsing history should be cleared after attack incidents to avoid tracking by adware and spyware. 

Any unintended browser extensions should be removed, and unwanted applications uninstalled. Avoid free software downloaded from the internet. Users should also be educated on the importance of human behaviors that impact security practices and strike a compromise by observing policies and procedures as needed. Ability to identify malicious behavior and self-report is key for action to be implemented in time. As long as the application associated is freeware, it poses a risk.

Modern systems have adopted automated tools that offer visibility into the behaviors of code and the intended activity on the network and trigger an alarm. Regular backups are a key to attacks like ransomware without losing a coin. 

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