“Malware is anything designed to harm your device itself, or to harm you through your device. It can be software or hardware”

What is Malware?

Malware is anything meant to harm you or your computer. It can be a piece of software, such as a computer virus, or a piece of hardware, such as a key logger. Some people refer to all malware as “viruses”, and their malware protection software as “anti-virus”. The term virus, however, refers to a specific type. 

There are two main ways to categorize malware. You can talk about how it spreads, or about how it harms.  Viruses spread by replicating themselves but require action on our part to spread (such as by forwarding that chain email). Worms spread on their own through insecure networks. Trojans spread by pretending to be something they are not (such as a free mobile app). Today, however, I’d like to talk about how malware can harm. The list below covers the most common types, but it is far from complete. I am always impressed by human creativity, even in malware. 

Main Types of Malware


Spyware’s goal is to gather information. It is often used by advertisers, but is also notably used by political interests, especially by corrupt governments and even totalitarian regimes.  Spyware is also responsible for many cases of identity theft and “revenge porn”. 

Zombies and Botnets

Often times malware is not after you personally, but after your CPU. If your computer is running slow, or if it is turning itself on when you aren’t even at your desk, you may be a zombie. This type takes over your computer and uses it to do the hacker’s bidding. Hackers can do much more damage if they have control over hundreds, or thousands of computers all targeting a single server. A group of zombies or bots is called a bot net.

Fun fact: You can volunteer your computer to be used in a similar way for science! Check out BOINC, which uses your computer (when you aren’t using it of course) to do calculations for scientists. 


This type compromises your computer’s confidentiality. A backdoor is a piece of malware that creates an access point for later use. I don’t think I need to explain why this is a bad thing. Would you want an invisible, unlocked back door in your office?

Logic Bomb

Logic bombs are a type of malware that is set to “go off” after a specific event or action. When it is triggered, it may do all sorts of things. It could launch a flood of pop-ups, or send an inappropriate message to all your contacts. Most commonly, logic bombs are used to delete information from your system. It is a disaster literally waiting to happen. 


This is the fastest growing category. It encrypts part or all of your data and holds it ransom. Because of the mathematical strength of modern encryption, it is often impossible to retrieve the data without paying the ransom to the criminals. The best defense against this type is prevention. 

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