How Do We Get a Computer Infected with Malware?

how malware infects computerUsing a computer that is completely deprived of any security issues and runs smoothly and effortlessly could be rather boring for some of the adventurous PC users out there. Luckily, there is a way to spice up the experience -  by getting a malware infection of some kind, which we don't recommend.

The 'excitement' that we talk about from malware may involve some interesting messages occupying suddenly your desktop and informing you that you are being investigated by the FBI, or some bright ads flashing in all colors of the rainbow through your screen while you do some boring stuff on your PC. An Internet browser constantly redirecting you to places on the Internet you would otherwise never get the idea of visiting is another gorgeous feature that you can easily add to your online surfing routine. Rogueware is interesting as well - a threat that masquerades itself as a legit anti-malware application and plays various tricks on your system, like displaying a myriad of security alerts and warning pop-up windows, all in the attempt to scare you and persuade you that your computer is infected with malware. How about making your computer part of a zombie army employed by a bot herder and getting personally involved in the next huge cyber attack that will take down a major website?

Modern operating systems are well equipped with tools and applications that curb your secret desire to explore new stuff on the Internet, but you could offset this overdone security and get a nice piece of malware that will bring so much joy to your life, and that over a long period of time. You really don't need to have any technical expertise to get yourself on the malware trip, yet there are a few things you should know on your way. First of all, not every operating system is that susceptible to the most enjoyable threats out there, and secondly, you will need to search on the right places if you wish to get the most fascinating of all malware currently available on the market.

Hopefully, you're not the type to indulge in the "fun" that malware threats offer and you'll want to avoid doing the wrong thing to attract additional malware threats or allow your computer to suffer from threats because of simple negligence. But in case you wish to get malware on your machine, here are the things you can do to get it:

Choosing the right operating system for a start

Without any doubt, any device running the Microsoft Windows operating system has the highest chances to provide you with the ultimate malware experience that you are after. Here, there is one simple rule - the older the Windows version, the better. The latest versions are packed with built-in security features that will spoil the party. Versions for which Microsoft no longer provides support are the best option, so if you can find some antique Windows 95, your malware entrainment is guaranteed. Namely, for this one, hackers have had all the time in the world to exploit the existing and unfixed vulnerabilities.

An Android device is your second best choice. There, the opportunities are also almost unlimited as some of the older Android versions do not get support or updates, including security updates, which means there are millions of vulnerable mobile devices out there that provide an excellent environment for malware to flourish.

What you should avoid in any case if you wish to enjoy the malware experience is a Mac device. Systems running macOS could in certain circumstances get infected with malware, yet occasions are really rear, and you may have to wait for ages before that happens. iOS devices are even worse in that regard - we cannot even say for sure that there are cyber attacks that could possibly succeed in hitting an iOS device. So, stay away from these!

Turning off your browser security features is also a great idea

Nowadays, modern browsers seem to know what is best for you, much better than you know yourself. They have all kinds of protection mechanism that can supposedly detect which websites are safe and which not, and they tell you all the time which tools or add-ons to download and from which to keep your hands off. It is easy to avoid all that. If you are using an old-school Internet Explorer, press Alt+T to open the Tools menu, then simply select and turn off the Windows Defender SmartScreen Filter feature. Edge users should choose Settings from the menu, then open the Advanced settings section, find the Windows Defender SmartScreen feature and turn it off. In Firefox, you can escape the browser tyranny by clicking on Options, selecting the Privacy and Security tab, and then unchecking the box called Block dangerous and deceptive content. In Chrome, just click on Settings, then go to Advanced, and there uncheck everything you can in the Privacy and Security section. Now, you are free to check out all the eye-catching links and pages on the web. Pay particular attention to websites offering free utilities, adult content, all sorts of shady links, gaming forums, and everything else you can imagine.

Then, disable your malware protection

The next important step on your malware quest is to turn off any anti-virus applications available on your computer as its operation will prevent the desired malware from getting installed on your machine. It is important, however, not to delete the AV completely as that creates further inconveniences. One problem that arises when you have no antivirus protection on your PC comes from a tool embedded in the latest Windows versions called Windows Defender Security Center. If Windows detects that there is no other anti-malware program running on your computer, it will automatically turn on Windows Defender, which will, of course, make it harder for malware to penetrate your system. While in older versions of Windows this tool has been rather lame, in Windows 10 it is actually showing pretty decent test results. And what is worse, even if you turn off its real-time protection feature, Defender will still keep running its scheduled scans, and could thus detect and neutralize certain malware threats. So, rather than removing completely any antivirus programs, we advise you to check out the AV ratings and pick up some anti-malware solution with a really poor score. Additionally, while you keep this one active, you can disable real-time protection and scheduled scans.

Search the web and e-mail for suspicious content, Install some freeware

After you have removed all the obstacles that could prevent a decent malware infection on your PC, it is time to start the search on the Internet. The first place where malware can be found is your email account. There, you can skip all regular messages coming from people you know, like friends, family, colleagues or your boss - those are highly unlikely to serve the purpose of the malware distribution. The focus of your search should be on the junk folder, that's where the fun stuff is. Look for things like offers from girls for a date out, or promises to win millions of dollars by just clicking a link, or messages from your bank asking you for your credentials (which, who knows why landed in your junk folder instead of the regular inbox). Malware authors have many more tricks to capture your attention and emails containing malicious links and attachments can be masked as delivery notifications, invoices, tax refunds, and so on.

In any case, you should click all the links you can find within those sorted out emails, as well as all the links and ads in general that you come across while surfing the Internet. They will probably lead you to web pages where you will be asked to download a new add-on, or a new driver or a video recorder in order to see all the content. Go for it, install everything you are asked, and soon you will get your malware. Even if nothing spectacular happens at first, don't worry. Those pages can also contain malicious scripts that work secretly behind the scenes, so it might take some time before a funny message appears on your screen saying that all your files are locked and you need to pay a ransom in order to get your data back.

Another important thing to mention is freeware. These are programs and applications that are offered for free on the Internet, however, bear in mind that there is no such thing as 100% free. Your chances to get some spyware or, at least, some keylogging tools bundled into freeware are pretty good. This way, you will not only get a sluggish performing device, but also some cyber crooks could get to spy all of your activities and log everything you type on your keyboard. File-sharing services like BitTorrent are also a reliable source of malware. Files gathered through peer-to-peer file-sharing come from many different computers with unknown security protection. Furthermore, hackers also know what users download the most and often disguise malware as some popular file or program.

Use a free storage device

USB storage devices are another reliable method of obtaining malware, especially when they are given for free. You can find free USB thumb drives pretty much everywhere  - at cybersecurity conferences, for example, the audience is given such free drives with the presumption that relevant press releases are stored on them. Digital data like presentations and other content from other events is also supposed to be stored on USB drives which are distributed through the participants, you can even find one lying on the street. So, pick up immediately every USB you come across.

Most types of malware that are stored on outside storage devices are really easy to install, in fact, they usually launch automatically as soon as you plug in the drive. But even if nothing happens outright, do not lose hope. Just explore all the files and folders stored on the drive, maybe something really interesting is hiding there for you to discover. If you see any executable files or programs, you should surely run them on your PC, some of them could be having really funny malicious features.

Even if you find nothing, do not despair. Some malware threats are acting in the background, secretly taking over your computer without giving any notice, so the malware party could still start at some later point of time.

Ransomware looks like real fun

Browser hijackers that flood you with ads and redirect your searches, or banking Trojans that empty your bank account within minutes, are fun, but ransomware is the real thing when it comes to malware infections. These sophisticated threats have really interesting features that will ensure your entertainment, like encrypting your most valuable data and demanding the payment of hundreds of dollars in exchange for a decryption key. The ransom note is a funny issue on its own. For example, some ransomware threats replace your entire desktop image with a ransom note stating that you are being investigated by the FBI because you have illegal content on your PC; flashing skulls and other shocking images are also in the repertoire. Otherwise, ransom notes can also show up as a note in your browser or as a Notepad file. In any case, the ransom note will typically explain to you the whole process you have to go through in order to get your data back - from contacting the criminals to the payment of the ransom. You should, however, do not rely on those crooks to send you a decryption key as in most of the reported ransomware attacks they never do, even after they have received the requested amount.

Some ransomware variants are just "file encryptors," meaning that they lock up only certain files on your computer, however, a "disk encryptor" is a different story. Take the Petya ransomware, for example - watching this one in action is like enjoying a real suspense movie. First, it simulates a system crash that looks absolutely legit; then it pretends to be generating a crash report, then it reboots your system, supposedly repairing your files. After this is done, and your computer starts again, you will experience a huge surprise as you will realize that your entire disk is encrypted and your PC does nothing but display to you a red skull and a note with the hackers' claims and demands.

If you are lucky, you may be able to find a decryption tool somewhere on the Internet; some anti-malware applications could also clear up your system. Yet, in many cases, a ransomware attack will put an end to your malware experiments, and you will have start all over again with a clean slate, leaving all that old data behind.

The boring way is the safe way?

If malware fun does NOT appeal to you, you already know what you should NOT do in order to prevent malware from intruding into your life. Have those steps in mind, do exactly the opposite, and your PC should be safe, and rather boring.

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