Malware Attacks: Types, Examples, and Preventing the Next Attack

Malware attacks involve unauthorized access to a computer system using malicious software, which can lead to data theft, unauthorized access to sensitive information, and disruption of normal operations

July 13, 2023

What are Malware Attacks? 

Malware attacks involve unauthorized access to a computer system using malicious software, which can lead to data theft, unauthorized access to sensitive information, and disruption of normal operations. As reliance on digital systems increases, security professionals and cloud native engineers must understand malware threats to effectively safeguard their infrastructure.

This is part of a series of articles about vulnerability management

In this article:

Types of Malware Attacks 

Here are common types of malware attacks:

  1. Virus: Viruses are malicious software that attach to legitimate programs or files, replicating when the infected program executes. They can cause data loss, system crashes, or unauthorized access to sensitive information.
  2. Worm: Worms are self-replicating malware that spread through networks without user interaction, often exploiting network protocol or service vulnerabilities.
  3. Trojan: Trojans masquerade as legitimate software but execute harmful actions once installed on a victim’s device. Unlike viruses and worms, trojans don’t replicate themselves but rely on social engineering tactics to trick users into installing them voluntarily.
  4. Ransomware: Ransomware encrypts vital files or entire systems, demanding a ransom fee (usually in cryptocurrency) for victims to regain access. Ransomware attacks have become increasingly sophisticated and widespread, affecting businesses, governments, and individuals alike.
  5. Rootkits: Rootkits are stealthy malware that conceals its presence on an infected system by modifying or bypassing standard operating system security mechanisms. They often grant attackers remote control over the compromised device without detection.
  6. Fileless malware: This type of malware operates entirely within memory or other non-file-based locations (such as registry keys), making it challenging for traditional antivirus solutions to detect and remove them from affected systems.
  7. Bots: Bots are automated programs designed to perform specific tasks, like sending spam emails or participating in Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks against targeted websites. Botnets consist of multiple compromised devices controlled by a single entity known as a botmaster.
  8. Spyware: Spyware covertly monitors user activities and collects sensitive information such as login credentials, financial data, or browsing habits without consent, often used for identity theft purposes.
  9. Malvertising: This technique involves injecting malicious code into legitimate online advertisements displayed on popular websites. Users can get infected simply by visiting the site hosting the tainted ad, even if they don’t click on it.
  10. Keyloggers: Keyloggers record every keystroke made on an infected device, allowing attackers to capture passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information entered through keyboards. Some keyloggers also take screenshots periodically to gather additional data from victims’ screens.

Read Aqua research about malware threats affecting cloud native infrastructure

Examples of Famous Malware Attacks

SolarWinds Attack

The SolarWinds attack, which came to light in December 2020, was a highly sophisticated cyber-espionage campaign. The attackers compromised the software supply chain by inserting a backdoor into the SolarWinds Orion platform, a popular IT management tool. This enabled them to gain access to thousands of organizations worldwide, including several US government agencies.

The scale and sophistication of the SolarWinds attack highlight the need for robust cybersecurity measures and the importance of securing software supply chains. The attack also underscores the potential consequences of a successful malware attack on critical infrastructure and national security.

Microsoft Exchange Server Attack

In March 2021, Microsoft disclosed a series of vulnerabilities in its Exchange Server software, which allowed attackers to gain unauthorized access to email accounts and steal sensitive information. The attack affected tens of thousands of organizations worldwide and was attributed to a state-sponsored hacking group known as Hafnium.

The Microsoft Exchange Server attack highlights the importance of timely patching and vulnerability management in protecting against malware attacks. It also serves as a reminder of the potential consequences of a successful attack on widely-used software platforms.

Colonial Pipeline Attack

In May 2021, a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, one of the largest fuel pipelines in the United States, disrupted fuel supplies across the Eastern Seaboard. The attackers, a cybercriminal group known as DarkSide, used ransomware to encrypt the company’s files and demanded a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key.

The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack demonstrates the ability of cybercriminals to target critical infrastructure and the potential impact of such attacks on society. It also highlights the growing threat posed by ransomware attacks and the importance of implementing robust cybersecurity measures to protect against them.

Kaseya VSA Attack

In July 2021, a ransomware attack on the Kaseya VSA software platform, a widely-used IT management tool, impacted thousands of businesses worldwide. The attackers, believed to be the REvil ransomware gang, exploited a vulnerability in the software to encrypt the files of Kaseya’s customers and their clients.

The Kaseya VSA ransomware attack is another example of the growing threat posed by ransomware and the need for organizations to prioritize cybersecurity, including patch management and vulnerability assessment.

Learn more in our detailed guide to attack vectors

Preventing Malware Attacks 

Antivirus Software

Using antivirus software is the basic step in protecting against malware attacks. Antivirus software can detect and remove known malware and help prevent new threats from infiltrating your system.

Ensure that your antivirus software is updated regularly to protect against the latest threats. Additionally, make sure to schedule regular scans of your system to detect and remove any potential malware infections.


Next-Generation Antivirus (NGAV) is a more advanced form of traditional antivirus software. It uses a combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and behavioral analysis to detect and prevent malware attacks. This makes NGAV more effective at identifying and stopping known and unknown threats, including zero-day exploits and advanced persistent threats. By using NGAV, you can significantly reduce the chances of a malware attack on your systems.

In addition to its advanced detection capabilities, NGAV also offers real-time protection, ensuring that your systems are continuously monitored for threats. This proactive approach helps to identify and neutralize threats before they can cause damage. NGAV is an essential tool for any organization looking to protect itself from malware attacks.

Network Firewall

A firewall is a crucial component of your system’s security, as it helps protect your network by monitoring and controlling incoming and outgoing network traffic. A properly configured firewall can help prevent unauthorized access to your system and block malicious traffic. 

Ensure that your firewall is enabled and configured correctly, and update its ruleset regularly to protect against new threats.

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

Web application firewalls are another important tool in the fight against malware attacks. WAFs are designed to protect web applications from various types of cyber-attacks, including cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. By implementing a WAF, you can effectively protect your web applications and the data they contain from being compromised by malware.

WAFs work by analyzing incoming traffic to your web applications and blocking any requests that exhibit malicious behavior. This helps to prevent unauthorized access to your systems and data, effectively reducing the risk of a malware attack. In addition to their security benefits, WAFs can also help to improve the performance of your web applications by filtering out malicious or unwanted traffic and optimizing legitimate requests.

Regular Security Audits

Conducting regular security audits can help identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your system before they can be exploited by attackers. Audits should include a thorough examination of your network infrastructure, software, and security policies, as well as testing for potential vulnerabilities.

Regularly review and update your security policies and practices to ensure they remain effective against evolving threats.

Using Email Filters

Email is a common attack vector for malware, as it can be used to deliver malicious attachments or links. Implementing email filters can help protect against these threats by scanning incoming messages for malware and blocking potentially harmful content.

Ensure that your email filters are updated regularly to detect and block the latest malware threats.

Restrict User Permissions

Limiting user access to essential files and systems can help reduce the risk of malware infections. By restricting user permissions, you can minimize the potential damage caused by a malware attack and make it more difficult for attackers to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.

Implement the principle of least privilege, granting users the minimum level of access necessary to perform their job functions.

Protect Container Infrastructure

Most organizations today maintain containerized applications, using technologies like Docker and Kubernetes. This means that container-specific security tools must be part of your organization’s malware strategy. Container-specific security tools, designed to cater to the unique challenges of containers, provide real-time visibility and are capable of automatically detecting and responding to unusual activity. 

Regular scanning of container images for vulnerabilities, both pre-deployment and during runtime, should be a core part of your continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipeline. This facilitates early identification and remediation of potential threats. Minimizing the base image size for your containers reduces the attack surface, making it difficult for threats to exploit vulnerabilities. During runtime, close monitoring of container behavior helps to identify anomalies indicating possible security threats or malware infections.