Introduction to cyber security: stay safe online
Introduction to cyber security: stay safe online

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.1 What is malware for?

There are many reasons why malware is created including intellectual curiosity, financial gain or corporate espionage.

Many programmers thrive on the challenge of seeing what is possible, and set out to create a malware program even if they do not intend to do harm. Perhaps the most famous of these experiments was the 1988 Morris Worm – the first worm to spread over the internet. The supposed intent of this worm was to gauge the number of machines connected to the network. However, the result was to slow down the operation of infected machines to the point of being unusable.

Worms continue to represent a major threat, as shown by the case of the Conficker Worm of 2008.

Case study: Conficker

In 2008, Microsoft Windows computers began being infected by an advanced worm called Conficker, which spread when users shared files, either over networks or via USB flash memory drives. The malware disabled important security features, such as antivirus software and automated update systems and blocked users from downloading fixes. At the same time, Conficker would exploit a weakness in Microsoft’s server software to infect computers on the same network.

Conficker became the fastest-spreading malware known then, eventually being found in almost every country. Conficker outbreaks were reported from (among others) the armed forces of the UK, France and Germany, as well as the British House of Commons and UK police forces. In the US, Conficker’s impact was sufficiently serious that the Department of Homeland Security set up a Conficker Working Group of security experts tasked with creating strategies that could be used against similar outbreaks in the future.

Conficker’s authors were clearly not amateurs. They released new variants of Conficker on a regular basis to overcome weaknesses in the original malware and took steps, (including using digital signatures), to ensure that no one else could hijack their program.

Although Conficker caused a great deal of nuisance, it did not appear to do any actual harm to data, however, the program could have delivered other malware that would have attacked users. In many ways, Conficker was a harbinger of the advanced criminal malware – such as Cryptolocker – that is a major threat to today’s users.

A detailed analysis of the development of Conficker and how the source was identified was published by Mark Bowden in the New York Times in June 2019: 2019/ 06/ 29/ opinion/ sunday/ conficker-worm-ukraine.html [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371