The Many Faces of Malware: A Journey of Real-World Samples

11 months ago · 0 comments

Most people never get face-to-face with malware, but I'm not most people, having experimented with protection software at PCMag for decades. Let's take a deep dive into the dark web to glimpse what malware looks like.

Unless you’re a miserable victim of ransomware, you’ve likely never had a close-up view of a virus, Trojan, or other nasty software. Even if you neglected common wisdom and visited damaging websites or clicked hazardous links, your antivirus software likely wiped out any offending program on sight. So, you might wonder, just what does malware look like? Would you even identify a malware program if you saw it? 

A lot of malicious programs don’t look like anything at all. A virus, for example, gives its best to conceal from view while contaminating other files and computers. Bot models quietly on your computer until it contacts the command and control centre to eject some spam or participate in a DDoS attack on a major website. 

Trojans, by contrast, appear to be useful, legitimate programs, putting up a pretty facade to hide background activities like stealing your data. And when ransomware hollers for your attention, it’s bad news. I've seen all these variations in collecting and analysing new samples for my hands-on malware protection tests. 

I start with thousands of malware-hosting URLs, download their malicious payloads, and put them through their rates. In testing, I play the fool, launching untried files, clicking through to let them install, and providing them with any permissions they request.