By Zac Amos, Features Editor,

Various types of cyber security threats have become increasingly sophisticated recently. For a long time, scammers have used multiple methods to get malicious software, also known as malware, onto as many computers as possible. Unfortunately, these efforts are ramping up.

Here’s how malware has evolved over the years and some notable programs that have wreaked havoc on digital ecosystems.

A brief history of malware

Malicious computer programs were simple in the late 1980s. They were often passed from computer to computer using floppy disks carried by human hands. Boot sectors and file infectors are examples of early malware.

As more computers were adopted in the 1990s, malware became increasingly common. Macro viruses, which enable malware to spread through email attachments, were especially popular. It also got easier for malicious actors to infect computers by using macro viruses spread by emails.

Malware authors could adapt malicious code and find more ways to take advantage of computers when the internet matured. By the 1990s, malware became even more elusive and hard to detect. As a result, the antivirus software industry became a growing business.

Aggressive social engineering tactics came into play in the 2000s. Consider the “I Love You” worm, the most damaging of its time, which infected millions of computers worldwide after the first 15 minutes of its release. Computer infections became such an issue that people were routinely arrested for computer-related crimes during this time.

By the mid-2000s, malware was commonplace, and millions of worms were circulating across the internet. Additionally, it was understood that governments and their militaries could use malware to execute state-sponsored attacks.

Malware has been constantly changing from its early stages into what it is today. Consider how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused the threat landscape to evolve due to the unprecedented number of people working from home.

Notable malware programs

Some of the most common malware attacks include:

  • Adware
  • Ransomware
  • Spyware
  • Trojans
  • Worms
  • Rootkits
  • Keyloggers

All of these types of malware can cause irreparable damage, but it was found that ransomware attacks affected 621 entities between January and September in 2019 alone. Ransomware essentially renders a user’s files useless until a ransom is paid, which is a primary reason as to why it’s spreading so rapidly — hackers will use it to make a profit.

Generally speaking, there have been many different malware attacks throughout history. Below are some examples of notorious programs that have been recorded in recent years.


This type of malware spread across computers in 2017. WannaCry infects a Windows computer and encrypts files on the hard drive so users cannot access them.

It was reported that WannaCry infected 7,000 computers within the first hour of its release. Some globally-renowned brands lost control over their industrial processes due to WannaCry.


REvil, which first appeared in 2019, had a sophisticated evasion capacity and used various measures to avoid being detected by commonly used antivirus software. REvil had several targets, but the main focus of attacks was in Europe, the U.S. and India.

It essentially encrypts a user’s files and gains administrative access by exploiting vulnerabilities in a system. According to the BBC, Russian authorities have dismantled the REvil crime group and arrested selecmembers.


NotPeyta was first detected in Ukraine. It spread across Europe, negatively affecting multiple industries, such as the aviation industry, the financial industry and the utilities sector. Some sources believe it was spread through accounting software called MeDoc.

The malware reboots victims’ computers, encrypts the master file on the hard drive and renders the master boot record (MBR) inoperable. It also prevents access to the computer system after it steals the victim’s Windows login credentials.

Prioritizing cyber security in today’s digital age

Hackers will use just about any means necessary to infiltrate a computer network, gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, and create major disruptions to businesses and individuals alike. The cyber security industry is keen on limiting the impact of these attacks, although malware will likely continue to evolve as technology advances.

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