Short for ‘malicious software’, malware is coded with the intention of stealing confidential information from individuals and businesses. Once it breaches a computer or network, it can also spy on internet activity and damage data. An increasingly common form of attack is the fraudulent redirection of internet banking users.

How does malware work?

Malware can hide inside innocuous-looking software (trojans) or spread between machines without relying on user interaction (worms). It can be custom-designed to evade defences and execute specific tasks.

Once inadvertently installed, malware can carry out many activities unseen. It may spy on website visits, destroy data or piece together passwords. Increasingly, it’s being used by criminals to encrypt important business information until the organisation pays a ‘ransom’. This form of malware is known as ‘ransomware’. Internet banking users may also be redirected to fake sites which record their login data to enable financial theft.

Malware is usually delivered via email ‘phishing’ or fraudulent links. Malicious apps and USB memory sticks can also compromise smartphones and computers respectively. Malware can stay hidden for months until activated.

How to defend your business against malware?

The risks of malware can include hardware damage, significant data and financial loss and paralysis of business activity. Here are some ways you can protect yourself:

  • put in place strong response, recovery and back-up processes
  • run up-to-date anti-virus software on all machines
  • consider systems that use file reputation / behaviour analysis within a safe sandbox system
  • explore the use of network behaviour anomaly detection (alert to attacker commands) as another systems security option
  • keep your PCs, servers and associated hardware up to date, installing the latest security patches as they become available
  • make sure that your staff avoid questionable websites
  • know not to download free software/apps, run MS Office macros on email attachments or use USB sticks from unverified sources
  • consider application whitelisting (blocking any software not already authorised)
  • use different passwords for different business logins

Find out more about Protecting your business from cybercrime


One of the most common forms of cyberattack, bank phishing operates through emails, calls and texts, which are often convincing and appear to come from legitimate senders.

Business email compromise

Also known as CEO/Chairman fraud, business email compromise is one of the emerging forms of cybercrime that is frequently targeted at SMEs. It combines the techniques of malware and phishing to trick users into revealing confidential business information, leading to huge financial damage.

Text and phone scams

This form of fraud spoofs the contact details and websites of legitimate sources to trick targets into making payments or revealing confidential information. Scam calls and texts are often referred to as ‘vishing’ (voice phishing) and ‘smishing’ (SMS phishing) respectively.

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