Threatware refers to computer programs developed by threat actors to gain unauthorized access to victims’ computers. They are used to harm devices with the end goal of stealing their owners’ sensitive information. Threatware are also called “malware,” specifically “spyware.”

Various kinds of threatware have alarmingly spread over the years, including ransomware, keyloggers, trojans, and adware.

Other interesting terms…

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Regardless of what you call it, threatware or malware have become a major global threat. In their 2021 State of Email Security Report, Mimecast revealed that six out of 10 respondents suffered from a ransomware attack. And if one computer gets infected, other devices within the same network can as well, since some malware are designed to self-replicate. A computer worm, for instance, can access uninfected devices through a network connection and create copies of itself on connected systems.

How Do Threatware Get Onto Computers?

A common question people ask is: Can you get threatware from an email? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, the top vehicle for malware infection is phishing emails. Threat actors send malicious emails to potential victims, making them believe the messages come from a friend, co-worker, or legitimate company.

These emails urge users to click a link or download a malicious file. Performing either of these actions allows the malware to infect the victim’s computer. Here is an example of a phishing email posted on Twitter:

phishing email

Aside from emails, threat actors also use social media or text messaging to lure victims to download threatware.

What Are the Effects of Threatware?

We know that the threat actors’ ultimate goal is to access sensitive data like passwords and research files, but what actually happens if your computer gets infected by malware? There are several types of threatware, and they may affect your system differently. However, there are common signs that your device is infected, including:

  • Slow processing
  • Sudden shortage of storage
  • Regular freezing or crashing
  • Appearance of several pop-ups
  • Installation of unwanted programs

If you notice any of these signs, your computer may have been infected by a threatware. Do not click any link on the pop-ups or open programs you don’t remember installing. It would help if you immediately disconnect your device from your local network and the Internet. That way, you avoid infecting other systems and stop a data transmission the malware could be doing. Run a virus scan and delete the detected malware and associated temporary files.

How Do You Avoid Threatware Infection?

There are some best practices to help you avoid threatware infection, including:

  • Don’t open emails from unknown sources: While some malicious emails are instantly blocked or end up in your spam folder, others may make it to your inbox. It’s best to delete or mark emails from people you don’t know as spam.
  • Don’t click links: Whether on social media, emails, or text messages, do not click links without scrutinizing them. Before clicking links saying “click here,” “check here,” or “verify your account,” hover over them or associated buttons. This action will let you see the actual URL, usually at the bottom-left side of your window. Avoid clicking if the webpages are suspicious, such as amazom[.]xyz instead of amazon[.]com.
  • Install and regularly update antivirus software: Anti-malware or antivirus software can constantly run in the background so you can get alerted to any malicious activity. They can stop you from visiting dangerous websites. You can also do regular scans to ensure there are no hidden malware on your system.
  • Update your operating system (OS) and computer programs: Cybercriminals constantly look for ways to exploit systems or programs even before developers can detect vulnerabilities. We call these zero-day attacks. Developers patch vulnerabilities by creating updates that you need to apply to your system. 

Threatware can wreak havoc on your computer and network. Aside from stealing personal data, they can spread to other connected devices. They can even send spam messages to your contacts or post malicious links on your social media feeds.

Threatware, particularly ransomware, can also delete and lock your files. You would need to pay the ransom to get access back. That can cost a lot of money since the average ransomware payment is US$570,000. Keep in mind that ransomware victims are not only limited to large corporations. Small businesses and individuals can fall prey to them, too.