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Malware is any software that installs surreptitiously with the intent of performing unauthorized activity on a computer.

How malware spreads

Viruses and worms are file infecting malware that, when activated, spread themselves to other files.  Viruses typically require user intervention to activate, such as opening a document, and will infect other files on the same computer.  Worms are able to activate without user intervention, and will infect files on computers on the same network.  Without appropriate controls, viruses and worms will spread indefinitely.

How malware conceals itself

A Trojan Horse describes a delivery method for malware.  A Trojan Horse will invite a user to interact with it to deliver its payload, such as an infected link or attachment.  Trojan Horses are commonly used to deliver spyware and adware.
A Rootkit describes a concealment method for malware.  A Rootkit will install malware deep into the operating system to avoid detection.


Spyware describes malware that extracts information from a computer.  Spyware includes keystroke recorders which steal information when it is typed into fields on a form, or password stealers which mine cached files for user name and password information.
Backdoors allow a remote user unauthorized access to a computer.  Remote control or execution malware allow remote users to execute commands on the infected computer.  Command and control malware make the computer part of a network of infected computers called a Botnet

Adware monitors collects information about a user’s internet browsing habits, and uses that information to present unsolicited advertisements.

Ransomware disables services on the infected computer, and demands user action from the user to re-enable the services.  The user action may be installing more unwanted software, but more commonly now the demand is for money.

The Target

Malware tends to be opportunistic; it is written for the largest number of potential targets as possible.  This has led to the misconception that malware is written only for Windows based operating systems.  This mis-conception has led to a false sense of security among those who use systems that run MacOS , iOS, Android and Linux operating systems.

Do not be fooled by this misconception, malware can infect any operating system on any platform.

Be Safe

  • Install anti-virus or anti-malware software on all devices; including PC, Mac, Smart Phones and tablets.
  • Configure anti-virus or anti-malware software to automatically monitor system memory.
  • Configure anti-virus or anti-malware software to periodically scan storage media directly attached to the device.
  • Configure anti-virus or anti-malware software to automatically update signature files, scanning engines and other supporting files on a regular basis, i.e., daily or even more often.
  • McMaster University Staff and Faculty should install the managed Trend Micro OfficeScan Client offered at

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