Cyberattacks are an evolving threat to organizations and consumers. They are designed to access personal and crucial data that attackers can use to their advantage. They are created to extort money from innocent victims. They destroy business and personal lives, particularly if identity theft is involved.
The best defense that most individuals turn to? A strong and reliable cybersecurity tool.
Unfortunately, no matter how advanced and secure the latest cybersecurity tools are, security threats still manage to take advantage of their loopholes and vulnerabilities. One of the most notorious threats that do so is fileless malware.
What is Fileless Malware?
Fileless malware is an infamous cyberattack technique that takes advantage of existing applications, authorized protocols, and legit software to carry out malicious and fraudulent activities.
Its malware component secretly sneaks into a device using malicious downloads, links, and software entities and then hides in locations that are hard to detect, such as the RAM. From there, it starts doing malicious activities by working with other malicious entities, such as ransomware.
Unlike traditional malware entities, fileless malware doesn’t write anything to your hard disk. Rather, it makes sure no trace is left behind to avoid detection by antivirus tools.
But what makes fileless malware different from traditional malware?
Traditional Malware vs. Fileless Malware
Back then, any malicious attacks on a computer were generally considered malware. For those attacks, there were easy solutions. One involved creating signatures for executable files to allow the easy detection of malicious code.
In 2017, fileless malware surfaced, marking a new era of malware detection and prevention. The nature of malicious attacks has since changed, becoming stronger and more damaging. Signatures were even deemed unreliable and ineffective in blocking malware because malicious entities started to hide in all the sneaky places.
The Common Characteristics of Fileless Malware
Because fileless malware does not leave any trace, it’s quite difficult to detect, remove, and prevent. However, you can still identify it as it carries the following characteristics:
- has no signature or identifiable code,
- hides in a computer’s RAM,
- use processes that are native to the OS,
- works with other malware types,
- and takes advantage of existing applications on your system.
How Does Fileless Malware Work?
Fileless malware can be very effective because it sneakily hides in your system. In fact, it does not need any malicious files, applications, or software as an entry point. Once it successfully intrudes on your system and remains hidden, you can never really predict the risks it may pose.
Here are some possible fileless malware scenarios that use applications, protocols, and software to engage in malicious activities:
- A legit-looking file loads into memory. And then, it remotely loads a script to access confidential data that is sent back to the cyberattacker.
- System tools and scripting languages that are considered trusted are targeted to get scripts that execute remotely.
- Malicious code is added into existing applications, such as Flash, Microsoft Word, and Adobe PDF Reader, to target loopholes and initiate attacks.
How to Identify a Fileless Malware Attack
Although there is no obvious or unique behavior that a fileless malware attack will show, there are warning signs that you should watch for.
First, check for any unusual network traces and patterns. For instance, if your computer is connecting to botnet servers, you should be suspicious. Next, look for any symptoms of a system memory compromise, as well as other traces that may have been generated by malicious code.
3 Types of Fileless Malware Attacks
Depending on how the fileless malware entities are designed to infiltrate a system or network, they can be sorted into three main categories. These are:
These malware attacks aren’t completely “fileless.” What’s worse is that detecting them is quite difficult. Some popular fileless malware attacks that fall under this category are SamSam ransomware and Operation Cobalt Kitty.
2. Memory Code Injection
This technique involves hiding malicious code in the memory of legit software programs and system processes that are critical for Windows to function efficiently. Fileless malware spreads and re-injects itself into important processes to help hackers accomplish their goals.
3. Windows Registry Manipulation
By means of Windows Registry manipulation, malware attackers can send links and malicious files to Windows processes. Kovter and Poweliks are classified under this category.
Best Ways to Prevent Fileless Malware Attacks
You can actually prevent fileless malware attacks by doing the following:
1. Keep your software and applications up to date
Computers running Windows 10/11 are designed to download and install updates automatically. Although you don’t really have a choice, it’s actually a good thing. This is because PC updates are generally released to fix previously known vulnerabilities and issues and improve the existing system as a whole.
Then again, there are instances when Windows does not update automatically. If this happens, you have to do things the manual way. Here’s how:
- Click the Start button.
- Go to Settings.
- Choose Update and Security.
- Click Windows Update.
2. Disable programs and services that you do not use
Windows is notorious for enabling system processes and running applications that are resource-hogging. Because some of them aren’t really necessary and only cause your computer to slow down, it is probably a great idea to disable or close them.
Here’s how to disable the unnecessary programs running on a Windows computer:
- Go to Start > Run.
- Into the text field, input services.msc.
- Double-click on an unnecessary program or service in the list and change the startup type to disabled. Do this for all services and programs you want to disable.
3. Monitor your network traffic
Millions of malware programs are created and launched every month. Scary, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be as long as you stay alert. Apply cybersecurity practices and consistently monitor your network traffic and malware entities won’t stand a chance.
By logging network traffic, you can easily analyze network traffic and track any unusual activities that might be related to a fileless malware attack.
4. Install an antivirus tool
Do you really need antivirus software these days? Though it’s a shame, you actually do. This is because the online world is very dangerous. You can never be too careful.
Also, it’s not only viruses that you need to watch out for. The threats out there may quietly sneak onto your device without you knowing. They can lie hidden from view and stay dormant for days. But all the while, they can do something that may put you and your important files at risk.
5. Fix stability issues on your computer
As they always say, diagnosis is half the cure. By identifying any speed-reducing problems on your PC, you can plan and implement strategies that aim to fix them and restore system stability. To do this, all you need a reliable PC Repair tool.
Fileless malware may be evasive and sophisticated in nature because it doesn’t leave traces like traditional malware. But it does not mean you can’t do anything to defend your computer against its attack.
What you can do is to keep your software and applications up to date, disable programs and services that are not necessary, monitor your network traffic, install an antivirus tool, and fix stability issues, and your computer should be safe against fileless malware attacks.