Protect your business: Essential strategies on how to prevent malware attacks

Malware is one of the most common types of cyber threats facing businesses. Once you've been hit with a malware infection, you're at the mercy of cyber attackers. Your important files, sensitive data, and even network are up for the taking. So, how do you protect your team and your business?

How to prevent malware attacks on your business

Malware is malicious software designed to harm computer systems, networks, or devices. It can cause significant damage to businesses that are unprepared. Falling prey to malware attacks means financial loss, data breaches, reputational damage, system downtime, and legal and regulatory consequences.

So how do you protect your business and employees? You’ll need to learn to identify the common types of malware, understand how it gets delivered into your system, and what the best practices are to protect yourself. You should also equip yourself with a plan to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a malware attack.

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What is malware?

Step one is understanding the enemy. Malware, short for malicious software, is designed to harm or damage computer systems, networks, or devices. Cyber criminals use malware to steal, destroy, or manipulate data without your knowledge or consent. Some common types of malware include:

  • Virus: Much like a real disease, this can self-replicate and spread to other computers or devices. It usually attaches itself to legitimate programs or important files.
  • Worm: Another self-replicating type of malware that spreads rapidly through networks. As it goes, it consumes large amounts of system resources.
  • Trojan: Like the Greek trojan horse, this appears as a legitimate program but secretly contains malicious code. The hidden code then gives hackers unauthorised access to your computer or network.
  • Ransomware: Attackers encrypt your important files and system, locking you out. They then demand payment in exchange for a decryption key.
  • Spyware: A type of malware that secretly collects and transmits sensitive information about your team's online activity to third parties.
  • Adware: A form of malware that displays unwanted ads or pop-ups on a computer or device, usually to get paid for removing them.

Malware detected in computer system

How do you get a malware infection?

Malware attacks take many forms. Sometimes they get through security flaws, but often even the best security tools can't prevent malware. Cyber attackers rely heavily on users' trust to get their malicious code through. Coupled with a lack of security awareness amongst employees, attackers are usually successful. Common ways malware infections are spread include:

  • Malicious attachments sent via suspicious emails. These contain malicious code that can infect the recipient's computer when opened.
  • Malicious websites that contain malicious scripts or downloads. Visiting these sites automatically infects a computer or device.
  • Infected USB drives, CDs, or DVDs. When a victim inserts the device into their computer, the malware infection latches on to the system.
  • Malware can exploit security flaws in software, such as outdated operating systems or unpatched software applications.
  • Social engineering attacks trick users into actively downloading or installing malicious software. Phishing emails, for example, rely on psychological manipulation. They gain an employee's trust and coax them into a dangerous action like clicking a malicious link.

What malware attacks mean for businesses

As businesses rely more on digital technology, the threat of malware attacks continues to rise. Malware can cause significant damage to an unprepared leader.

  1. Financial loss. This includes the cost of repairing or replacing infected systems, lost productivity and recovering data.
  2. Data breaches. Once cyber attackers are in, they'll access customers' personal information and your sensitive data. You may also face legal and regulatory consequences for failing to protect this data.
  3. Reputation damage. Falling prey to malware attacks can damage your business's reputation. Especially if sensitive data is stolen or if customers are affected by the attack.
  4. System downtime. Malware infections take down your system, disrupting business operations and leading to lost productivity.
  5. Legal and regulatory consequences. Failing to protect sensitive data usually means non-compliance with relevant regulations. This can lead to some hefty legal and regulatory fines, or worse.

Lock it out: our top ten tips on how to prevent malware

Malware prevention isn't as costly or complex as you might think, and implementing best practices throughout your organisation goes a long way. Here's what you have to do.

1. Keep software updated

All business software should be kept up to date to avoid vulnerabilities in older versions. This includes operating systems and applications. Even setting automatic updates could be a good way to get this done more regularly.

2. Install antivirus software

While security software won't prevent all malware, it's still worth having. Antivirus software can detect and remove malware before it causes damage to a system. Remember to keep this software updated as well!

3. Use firewalls

This is another robust layer of security software. It acts as a barrier between your IT system and the internet. Firewalls prevent malware from communicating with command and control servers.

4. Password best practices

Prevent unauthorised access to important files or sensitive information with strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. Never save passwords on the system either. Instead, implement a password management tool organisation-wide.

5. Limit user access

Tiered authorised access limits the number of users who can access more critical or sensitive data. Limiting user privileges to only what is absolutely necessary prevents malware from spreading.

6. Backup your data

You might not be able to fully prevent a malware infection or other types of cyber attacks, so backup your data regularly and securely, and you'll be grateful in the event of a security incident.

7. Monitor network activity

It's a good idea to monitor your network to catch malware infections quickly and eradicate them. Log all in and out traffic into the network and baseline standard user activity, and monitor for outliers. If you see something unusual, respond promptly and you've got a chance to stop the malware before it spreads.

8. Email and spam protection

One of the most common ways malware is delivered is via email attachments. Invest in tools to scan incoming messages for suspicious attachments, malicious links and more. Then set some solid spam filters to send dodgy emails straight to junk. This reduces the chance of employees falling for social engineering attacks done via phishing emails.

9. Implement a comprehensive cyber security policy

This should outline best practices for cyber safety across all levels of the organisation (including some of the tips right here in this blog). It should also cover protocols for responding to cyber incidents quickly.

10. Train your people

Your employees can either be your biggest vulnerability or your best defence. It's up to them to implement best practices, avoid suspicious activity and so on. So it's important to invest in their security awareness. A cyber security training program for your team also means building customer and partner trust in your ability to protect their data. It can also potentially reduce insurance premiums.

Employee practising safe cyber usage

What happens if you get a malware infection?

No one is infallible – anyone can be at risk of a malware infection. So, what do you do?

  1. Isolate the infected device from the network to prevent the malware from spreading to other devices.
  2. Assess the damage and determine what files, data or systems have been affected by the malware infection.
  3. Remove the malware using antivirus software or hire a cyber security professional if it's a little more complex.
  4. Restore your data from the backup and wipe the system clean of the infection.
  5. Patch vulnerabilities that have allowed the malware to infect your system to prevent future attacks.
  6. Educate employees to recognise and avoid malware, so they can take steps to prevent future infections.

Ready to kick malware to the curb?

Remember that preventing malware infections is a lot easier and less costly than recovering from them. Be proactive in implementing cyber security measures, policies and best practices to stay ahead of new threats. A good place to start is a cyber security risk assessment to understand what your gaps are, and how aware your team is of cyber threats. From there, you can create an actionable plan to roll malware prevention strategies out across the business.

If you're looking at how to prevent malware and need a little help, talk to the expert team at CyberSafe International!

Ashish Srivastava|   Cyber Security Specialist

A seasoned information security professional with over 12 years of experience, Ashish has a proven track record of effectively protecting organisations from cyber threats and ensuring data privacy.