Malware, meaning malicious software, is software that is deliberately designed to cause some form of harm to a computer. The most common types of malware are:
- Control-based malware – This malware takes control over some aspect of a computer to perform a function, such as mass-sending spam emails or participating in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
- Spyware – Spyware remains hidden in a computer while sending data to an external source or while displaying unsolicited advertisements on the computer.
- Ransomware – Ransomware restricts a user’s access to their own data until they pay a ransom, usually in the form of a digital currency.
How does malware access your computer?
Malware can gain access to your computer using the following techniques:
A trojan horse accesses a computer by masquerading as something else. Trojan horse programs are often integrated into spam emails that pretend to be from a trusted source. If you fall for the disguise and click on a link in the email, or open the email attachment, the malware will attempt to install itself onto your computer. A trojan horse usually performs a limited function and does not spread itself across the computer.
A virus will spread to computers through other software, hiding itself much like a trojan horse. Unlike a trojan horse however, a virus will infect other areas of the computer once its carrier software has been installed.
A worm is also a reproducing malware. Worms spread from one computer to another over a shared network and reproduce in each computer that they infect. Unlike a virus, a worm actively spreads to other computers without the aid of a carrier software.
How common is malware?
Malware is a very common form of cybercrime. Due to the ability of worms and viruses to spread without active involvement from the hackers, malware can spread wide and far with ease.
On 22 September 2022, Optus reported that it had fallen victim to a malware attack. This may have compromised the private data of its large customer base in Australia. It has been reported that details including dates of birth, phone numbers and street addresses may have been accessed and downloaded by the hackers. Such information may then be used to conduct other crimes such as identity theft.
How can I protect myself?
Anti-malware or antivirus software is a crucial weapon in the fight against malware. This software is designed to detect and repel malware of all types. The software can repel malware in real time, scan for and remove malware that has already infected a computer, and quarantine or “sandbox” parts of an application that may contain malware.
How do I know if I have been the victim of a malware attack?
If you have installed effective anti-malware software, the software will inform you if there is malware installed on your computer.
Other indicators of the presence of malware might be:
- Applications and advertisements popping up on your computer unprompted.
- Emails being sent from your email address that you did not send.
- Slowdown in computer speed and functionality.
If you suspect that you have been the victim of a malware attack, report the incident. If you are concerned that your identity has been compromised, you can call IDCARE on 1800 595 160.
Is spreading malware a crime?
Chapter 10 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) criminalises the use of malware in certain circumstances.
Section 478.1 of the Act provides that it is an offence for a person to cause unauthorised access to, or modification of, restricted data. The access or modification must be intentional, and the person must know that it was unauthorised. “Restricted data” is defined as data in a computer to which access is restricted by an access control system associated with a function of the computer. Essentially, this refers to any sort of data on a computer that is usually only accessible to the user.
Section 478.1 carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.
If a person writes or distributes a malware program that accesses another person’s computer, whether through a virus, a worm or a trojan horse, they may be found guilty under section 478.1.
Sections 477.2 and 477.3 provide that it is an offence for a person to cause any authorised modification of data held in a computer. It is an offence under section 477.2 if the person is reckless that their actions will cause impairment. It is an offence under section 477.3 if the person intends to cause impairment.
Both sections 477.2 and 477.3 carry a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
A person who writes or distributes a malware program, such as ransomware, that modifies, alters, or removes data from another person’s computer may be guilty of an offence under sections 477.2 or 477.3.
Other sections of the Criminal Code Act that criminalise the writing and distribution of malware in certain circumstances include sections 477.1, 478.3, and 478.4.
How can we help?
Nyman Gibson Miralis provides expert advice and representation in malware investigations.
Contact us if you require assistance.