What is malware?

A small business guide

The word ‘malware’ is a short form of ‘malicious software.’ Malware is any software that is developed to disrupt or damage the working of a computer system intentionally. But what is malware really — and how might it damage your business?

India was the most-attacked country by data-stealing malware in 2015.

Malware poses substantial threats to any business that relies on computers. It can steal or delete data, alter or hijack core computer functions, monitor activities without your permission — even take complete control of your computer network.

How malware impacts small businesses in India

Malware is a problem that won’t go away soon. Between April 2017 to Jan 2018, more than 22,000 Indian websites were hacked. Nearly 500 of these websites were used to spread malware.

Websites of prominent Indian government organisations were also hacked in the recent past. Even incumbents like Indian Railways, Indian Army and ISRO were not able to adequately safeguard their systems from the attacks of hackers.

Now you might think that the mentioned names are big organisations with tons of valuable data.

What Is Malware Tailor
Even small businesses can have their computers infected by malware.
Photo: Coshipi on  CC BY-SA

Who would bother to corrupt or steal data from a small business website? Surely hackers would have no interest in breaching your site and accessing the data.

Surprisingly, in 2017 hackers put the data of more than 6,000 Indian businesses up for sale.

What you stand to lose from malware

Malware can eat away at everything you’ve worked so hard to build.

  1. Your good reputation.
  2. Traffic to your website.
  3. Your financial stability.

Before we explain the consequences of a malware infection, let’s look at why hackers spread malware. Then read on to learn how to protect your website.

Why hackers do it

There are various reasons why a hacker steals business data. One of them is the substantial and lucrative black market for stolen information. Hackers take the stolen data and sell the details on the darknet.

Stealing data is not the only motive. Hackers also attack newly built sites for practising and honing their hacking skills. Also, sometimes they do it just for fun.

More than 50 percent of small and medium businesses (SMBs) were breached in 2016, according to a study conducted by Ponemon Institute.

The study further reported that only 14 percent of the respondents rated their ability to respond to cyberattacks as ‘highly effective.’

Too little time, no security expertise

New and small business websites are more vulnerable to malware attacks due to the absence of expertise and human resources to watch for and respond to such attacks.

Small business owners generally have more than one string to their fiddles. While managing too many things, they often overlook the critical cybersecurity issues.

This is like working day and night to earn money and sleeping with your gates open at night.

 

It’s not just that new websites are easy to attack and hack — very few SMBs report the cybercrime. And if they do, only a fraction of the attacks result in a conviction.

Therefore, SMBs offer low risk and high reward to the attackers.

What is malware and how can it hurt you?

There are numerous ways a malware attack can prove fatal to your business.

1. Your good reputation

As a business owner, your computer system might hold the customer’s confidential information and data. It is your responsibility to protect and keep it secure.

A malware attack can steal this information and put it to the wrong use — identity theft, fraud, etc. If this happens to you, you didn’t just lose the customer data — but also the customer’s trust. It has a cascading effect on your business, and you could end up losing your new clients and referrals.

2. Traffic to your website

Google immediately blacklists your website once it identifies malware. The search engine, which handles 94 percent of search traffic in India, will display a huge warning telling the visitor not to go there.

What Is Malware Chrome Malware Warning
This is what visitors to your website would see if it is infected with malware.

Faced with a warning like this, the average person will likely click away. That means lost opportunities for your business.

3. Your financial stability

The result of a data breach can be catastrophic for a small business, including lawsuits, cleanup and the cost of remediation services (such as credit monitoring) for the customers.

You could also be asked for a ransom in order to regain access to your data. Ransomware locks the critical files and holds them as a hostage. They are released after you pay a hefty amount of money.

How to protect your website

You have worked hard to build your site and create content that resonates with your audience. It is scary to even think of losing all your hard work.

The sad part of the story is that this nightmare is a real possibility.

 

However, the good part is that it’s addressable. Following are ways that can help protect your business from malware attacks.

Back up regularly

It is imperative for any online business to have an automated system of backing up (i.e. saving) their website data. If your site gets infected by malware, the first thing you would require is the non-infected copy of your site. Using a recent backup, you can restore your site to its original, clean state.

GoDaddy’s Website Backup service safeguards your data and the site by creating daily backups. In case of mishap, you can restore your website quickly and easily.

Accept updates promptly

What Is Malware WordPress Updates

Regardless of the content management system (CMS) used to build your website (e.g. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc.), it is essential to keep updating all software and plug-ins with the latest versions. Don’t put this task off.

Because WordPress, Joomla and the like are based on open source code, anyone can see the code of your website. Hackers can quickly target any vulnerability they find in the CMS code, and use it to break into your site.

Similarly, the various plug-ins installed on your site, if allowed to become out-of-date, can also act as the backdoor access to your website and network.

Regularly updating the CMS as well as all plug-ins minimises the possibility of hacking.

Install quality security software

Now that you have a backup and an up-to-date website platform, the next step is installing security software.

To help your business avoid risky and harmful security breaches online, use quality security software that regularly scans your website for malware and suspicious activity.

Other security measures such as SSL encryption and a web application firewall (WAF) can help protect user data, but there’s still a chance you could be hacked.

A WAF is a cloud-based firewall service that screens website traffic. WAF guards against threats such as SQL injection and comment spammers.

You could be hacked in a way that affects customers, or hackers could target the server where important business information is stored. Either way, the sooner you address a hack, the better.

That’s why you should be scanning your website daily and removing threats as they’re discovered. Consistent monitoring and testing of your website files can be the difference between an online nightmare and business running as usual.

Prevention is the need of the hour

I hope this article has answered the question, “what is malware?” A malware infection that goes undetected and addressed can cost you not just money, but your customers and your reputation.

It is dreadful to think you might wake up one morning and see your site converted into a pornography website.

What Is Malware Handshake
Photo: U.S. Embassy New Delhi on CC BY-ND

If the technical aspects of protecting your website from malware are too much for you, trust GoDaddy as your cybersecurity partner. GoDaddy offers various security solutions that can protect your online business. You’ll be free to focus on building the business and doing what you do best.

Image by: RubyGoes Flickr via Compfight cc