A study into the impact of malware in 2017 suggests that hackers are becoming more persistent than ever with attempts to steal, hack or lock personal data.
Published by antivirus group Malwarebytes, the report examines the various types of malware attacks that targeted PCs, Macs and Android smartphones over the past year.
Of particular note was the huge rise in ransomware attacks. Ransomware is a type of virus that locks a computer or the files on it, demanding an extortion fee from the victim to recover access. This type of virus attack devastated NHS computers in May last year.
Below, we cover the key details of the Malwarebytes report, plus offer advice on how you can stay safe online.
Best Buy antivirus software – keep your important files safe
Ransomware on the rise
NHS computer servers were left crippled last year after a devastating ransomware attack from the WannaCry virus swept across the world. Ransomware works by hijacking your computer and demanding payment to access to your own files. In some cases, it threatens to permanently encrypt the files if you don’t pay up in a short time period.
Malwarebytes saw a 90% increase in ransomware detections for business customers in 2017, with that number rising to an even more unsettling 93% for consumers.
Ransomware is motivated by both money and mischief. The virus writers exploit a sense of panic among victims, forcing them to pay up rather than lose crucial files.
Traumatic as a ransomware infection can be, we don’t recommend paying up to regain access to your device or its files. For one thing, there’s no guarantee that the virus-writer will honour their side of the bargain. Even if they do, you’re still handing over money to a scammer, and encouraging them to persist with a profitable scam.
If you want to learn more about ransomware and how to remove it from an infected device, see our guide – Ransomware: what it is and how to stop it.
Increase in Adware incidents
Adware is the name given to unwanted adverts that appear on your PC screen and encourage you to visit an unsafe website. Potentially, clicking a website banner generated by adware could see you unwillingly sharing your location data and browsing history without knowing.
In its report, Malwarebytes says that adware was responsible for 40% of its threat detections, up 132% over the previous year.
Android devices are a key target. Towards the end of last year, a strain of mobile malware named Android/Trojan.AsiaHitGroup made its way onto the Google Play store. It was disguised as a QR scanner app, secretly monitoring location data and hiding itself in system files when downloaded. The fake app also generated links to other Android apps riddled with malware.
When it comes to reviewing mobile security apps, we test malware protection and theft recovery to help ensure your mobile phone has the very best protection. See our mobile security app reviews page for more.
Malware in 2018: is the worst yet to come?
A surge of interest in Bitcoin last year saw hackers take full advantage. With that in mind, Malwarebytes says that the growth of cryptocurrency will see a rise in the number of tools designed to hijack PCs and hack digital wallets. Those hacks could hit Android smartphones too – there’s no shortage of mobile apps that give users quick access to their cryptocurrency accounts and exchanges.
It’s time for Mac owners to build a defence against malware, too. Malwarebytes has seen an increase in Mac attacks over the past few years, and things aren’t likely to slow down in 2018. The group claims that malware on Mac will take ‘many different forms’ in 2018, with fake virus-scanning apps expected to catch victims out.
To see which antivirus software packages for Mac we recommend, see our advice on antivirus for Mac.
Free antivirus software rated by our experts
You don’t have to spend big to protect your computer against online threats. We’ve tested a number of free antivirus tools, and put them through the same grueling tests as the top paid-for security suites. Our reviews, based on independent tests, will help you protect your computer from scams and viruses online.
For advice on picking the perfect option for you, see our advice on How to choose the best antivirus software.
Avast offers basic protection against malware and viruses, and you’ll be pleased to hear that it doesn’t pester you with confusing messages and pop-ups. Anti-spyware and anti-phishing protection is included, which is a nice bonus for free antivirus software.
To see if Avast can effectively protect your PC from online attacks, take a look at our Avast Free Antivirus 2018 review. We’ve also had our hands on the paid-for version (£50), Avast Internet Security, plus Avast for Mac.
AVG is one of the best-known antivirus software packages. A free download will give you protection against spyware and blocks against unsafe links and dodgy downloads. If you opt for the paid-for option (£50) you can add unlimited devices to your account.
Our security experts have put AVG through its paces, so see how it fared in our AVG Free Antivirus review.
Bitdefender claims to eliminate online threats by running virus scans in the background that won’t impact the performance of your PC. It comes with a phishing shield and anti-fraud measures that stop your financial details falling into the wrong hands.
But before you think about downloading this antivirus tool, see our full Bitdefender Free Edition review. We’ve also tested the paid-for version (£25), which has a firewall for increasing security on your home network. Our Bitdefender Internet Security 2018 review has more.