What is Malicious Code?

Malicious code works like any type of software: it is implemented as a set of instructions that are executed on a computer, and can be designed to achieve a variety of different effects. Malicious code can steal sensitive information, deny access to important data or functionality, or achieve other effects.

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What is Malicious Code?

How Malicious Code Works

For malicious code to achieve its purpose, it needs to achieve execution, which can be done in various ways. Some of the methods that an attacker may use to run malicious code on a target computer include:

  • Social Engineering: An attacker may use phishing and other social engineering tactics to deliver malware to a user. If the user executes this malware, then malicious code is run on their device.
  • Malicious Scripts: Websites can include executable code that is run within the context of a web browser. Malicious scripts embedded in a website can collect sensitive information or exploit vulnerabilities within the browser to gain access to a user’s computer.
  • Vulnerability Exploitation: Vulnerabilities in software that processes untrusted user data may allow carefully crafted user data to be interpreted and executed as code. These remote code execution (RCE) vulnerabilities allow malicious code to be executed with the access and permissions of the vulnerable application.
  • Supply Chain Exploits: Companies commonly use third-party software and include third-party libraries within their applications. An attacker could insert malicious functionality into this external code or exploit vulnerabilities in it to gain code execution on a target device.
  • Compromised Accounts: Cybercriminals commonly attempt to steal credentials for legitimate employee accounts. Using these credentials, an attacker can directly access corporate systems using remote access solutions such as VPNs or RDP and execute malicious code on corporate devices.

Examples of Malicious Code

Malicious code can be designed to achieve various purposes. Some common types of malicious code include:

  • Ransomware: Ransomware is designed to deny access to an organization’s files and data by encrypting it using a key known only to the attacker. The attacker then demands a ransom payment in exchange for restoring access to the organization’s data.
  • Infostealers: Infostealers collect sensitive information from a user’s device. This could include login credentials, credit card data, and other sensitive information.
  • Backdoors: Backdoors provide an attacker with remote access to an infected device. This is often used to gain initial access to an organization’s systems and to set the stage for follow-on attacks.
  • Trojan Horses: Trojans are malware that looks like a legitimate file. They are often delivered via phishing attacks or malicious downloads.

How to Protect Against Malicious Code Attacks

Some ways in which an organization can protect itself against the threat of malicious code include:

  • Employee Security Training: Cybercriminals commonly use phishing attacks to deliver malware or steal credentials for user accounts. Training employees to recognize and properly respond to these types of attacks can decrease the risk of malicious code to the organization.
  • Anti-Phishing Solutions: Even the best-trained employees will not catch every phishing threat. Organizations should deploy anti-phishing solutions that prevent emails containing malicious links or attachments from reaching users’ inboxes.
  • Antivirus and Antimalware Software: Antivirus and antimalware can detect and block malicious code from entering a user’s device and prevent it from executing.
  • Secure Web Browsing: An attacker can execute malicious code on a user’s device using malicious scripts embedded within a web application or malicious downloads from a website. Secure browsing solutions can identify and block malicious scripts from executing and malicious files from being downloaded to employees’ devices.
  • Software Vulnerability Scanning: Cybercriminals can exploit software vulnerabilities to achieve malicious code execution. Secure DevOps practices and static and dynamic security testing can help to prevent vulnerabilities in an organization’s applications. Vulnerability scanning can identify vulnerabilities in deployed applications, enabling an organization to apply patches and updates.
  • Software Patches and Updates: A common technique by which cybercriminals deploy malicious code is by exploiting software with known vulnerabilities. Promptly applying software updates can enable an organization to close security gaps before an attacker can take advantage of them.
  • Zero-Trust Access Management: Cyber threat actors who gain a foothold on an organization’s systems can use that access to move laterally and access other systems. Implementing ZTNA and least privilege limits the damage that malicious code can do to an organization.

Malicious Code Prevention with Check Point

Cyber threat actors use malicious code to attack organizations in various ways. To learn more about the leading threats that companies face, check out Check Point’s 2022 Cyber Security Report.

Check Point Harmony provides industry-leading threat prevention capabilities across an organization’s entire IT environment. To see how Harmony Suite blocks malicious code attacks, sign up for a free demo.

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