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Malware (malicious software) is a general term for software used to interfere with a computer, gather sensitive information, or gain access to a protected information system. This type of software is created and used by cybercriminals and other malicious actors, even governments, to intentionally harm an information system. 

The most recognizable types of malware are computer viruses , but there are other types such as ransomware , trojans , adware, spyware and worms . Each type of malware has its own way of functioning, so the damage caused by each of them is of different degree. 

Despite the fact that there are certain definitions and divisions of malware, the categories cannot be definitively distinguished, so it often happens that one malware performs activities that are characteristic of other types of malware. 

Malware is distributed in a variety of ways. Most users download malware themselves, but as installed programs and devices communicate on the internet in different ways due to their activity, they sometimes have different vulnerabilities that attackers can take advantage of. In most cases, these vulnerabilities are addressed by software and hardware vendors, so it is important to regularly install software and device updates. 

Malware can perform a variety of operations, ranging from redirecting users to fake websites to destabilising the entire system. A special type of malware are keyloggers, which record keyboard strokes and send the records to third parties. Also, there is a type of malware that has the ability to send several thousand emails from an infected computer. Here are some other common types of malware:

  • A virus is a type of malware that replicates itself in existing files, programs, and even the operating system  itself. It usually modifies the contents of files or deletes them, which can cause the system to crash if a virus deletes a system file;
  • A trojan is a type of malware that, when installed, performs operations that are defined by the attacker, most often deleting or modifying data, but it can often damage the entire system. They usually look like regular and useful installation files, so that is how they got their name;
  • Adware (advertising software) is a type of malware that automatically displays advertisements when searching the internet when it infects the system, which brings revenue to the person who created it;
  • Spyware (spying software) is a type of malware that collects data from an infected system and passes it on to a third party, usually the one which created it. With this malware, unauthorised persons can gain access to passwords  , personal data, correspondence, etc;
  • A worm is a type of malware that replicates itself. This means that if one computer within the system is infected, it is very likely that all computers connected to it will be infected after a certain time. It most often damages the network and the system by slowing down the flow of data in the network. Worms are independent malware, i.e. unlike viruses, they do not have to be linked to an existing program to be transmitted.

Organisations nowadays face one of the biggest security problems and forms of cybercrime, a form of malicious software called ransomware. This form of malware encrypts  files on anything from a single computer all the way up to an entire network, including servers , so that the files cannot be accessed without a decryption key. The attackers then ask for payments in cryptocurrency to provide targets with the decryption key, usually within a short time frame to put more pressure on the targets. 

Some ransomware infections start with clicking on what looks like an innocent attachment that, when opened, downloads the malicious files and begins the encryption process. Larger ransomware campaigns use software exploits and flaws, cracked passwords and other vulnerabilities to gain access to organisational systems using weak points such as internet-facing servers or remote-desktop logins to gain access. The attackers will secretly hunt through the network until they control as much as possible – before encrypting all they can.

Victims of ransomware attack can often be left with few choices; they can either regain access to their encrypted files by paying a ransom to the criminals behind the ransomware, restore files from backups or hope that there is a decryption method freely available.

Small and medium-sized businesses are commonly targeted by ransomware because they tend to have poorer security standards and practices compared to larger corporations.

It is not always easy to recognise malware, as it often happens that users are initially unaware that their device/system is infected. Sometimes malware activity can be noticed due to spontaneous deterioration of system performance. The average user certainly cannot completely remove malware on their own without the use of specific anti-malware software. These programs monitor the system, scan the files downloaded from the internet and email, and if they find any malware, they quarantine it or delete it, depending on the settings. 

However, it is not enough to just install a specific application  that will scan and remove malware - it is also important that users do not install untrusted applications, click on suspicious links, open suspicious emails or visit unreliable websites.

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File a criminal complaint

Once you have the log files from your server from which it could be seen that your website was targeted with a cyber incident, e.g. unauthorised access, you can file a criminal complaint to the police or competent prosecutor. 

When preparing a complaint, make sure you mapped and described the events during the incident as they happened (what behaviour with the site did you notice, at what time, were there any changes you weren’t aware of), prepared the server logs and other useful information, such as screenshots of suspicious activities.

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Most common cyber incidents

According to the most general classification, technical attacks can be carried out either without direct access to the server or with the need of access to the server. In the first group are mostly incidents whose most important goal is to prevent access to the content of the site. 

There are several ways to crash a server, and the most commonly used is a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. This means that a huge number of devices simultaneously send access requests to the attacked server, which cannot answer all the queries and simply stops working. After the attack stops, in most cases the server and the site work normally. 

Ransomware is a form of malware which encrypts files on anything from a single computer all the way up to an entire network, including servers, so that the files cannot be accessed without a decryption key. The attackers then ask for payments in cryptocurrency to provide targets with the decryption key, usually within a short time frame to put more pressure on the targets. 

Phishing is focused on exploiting the lack of knowledge or gullibility of the target and is mostly done by email. It is usually used for various scams, such as the famed “Nigerian Prince”, infecting devices with malware or gaining access to sensitive information, such as financial data or login credentials. Potential targets are sent a fraudulent message which is made to look authentic and as if it was coming from someone from the position of authority, such as a bank or police. The recipient is then asked in the email to open the attached file or click on a link in order to do something very important, e.g. to update bank account information or review a received payment. 

Interception of communication (voice, video, text chats, internet traffic) is also a risk, as there are actors such as intelligence agencies and criminals with advanced capabilities and resources to conduct surveillance of unencrypted communications channels. Issues such as government hacking are becoming increasingly dangerous for citizens’ communications privacy due to the growing surveillance industry, which keeps developing and selling one advanced product after the next.

Code injection is a more sophisticated type of attack, when malicious code is inserted through some open form of the site or through a URL. The goal of the attack is to instigate the database or other part of the site to perform operations that have no visible result, but occupy the server's resources until they flood it with activities, thus shutting it down. In some cases, after these attacks, the site becomes unusable, so the content is restored with the last saved copy . Regular backup of the site is rightly considered an elementary security procedure. 

Trojans that enter the system through social engineering are first on the list when it comes to the number of some types of attacks. Users usually pick up the infection on obscure websites where they recklessly accept the warning that they are “infected” and activate a fake antivirus. In this way, millions of hacking attacks are carried out each year, which puts the trojans in an unsurpassed advantage over other hacker attacks. The best protection against this type of attack is education and information about modern forms of threats. In organisations, this problem is somehow solved by filtering sites that can be accessed from a computer in the local network. 

Computer worms are malicious programs that multiply themselves, using computer networks to transmit to other computers, usually without human intervention. They can arrive as an email attachment and their operation is enabled by security vulnerabilities in the operating system. The best protection against worm attacks are antivirus software and quality passwords [PASSWORS]. Other good methods are firewalls, not opening suspicious emails and regular software updates.

Online harassment includes many forms of abuse, such as impersonation (i.e. someone making a fake social media or email account with your personal data), smear campaigns, hate speech, threats, cyberstalking, etc. When such incidents occur, it is best to report and block the accounts in question and gather any digital evidence to be used for potentially filing a criminal complaint: relevant links or URL addresses, screenshots  of profiles and messages, phone/app  call logs and similar. 

Attacks that require access to a server are mostly complex and more serious. They are aimed at stealing data, altering content, placing fake content and disabling access to content. These attacks are complex because the attacker must break through all the security measures set on the server in order to reach certain passwords, access codes and the like. They also require greater expertise of the attacker.

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Incident notice

For the purposes of this toolkit, we will define “incident” as any event that has a negative impact on the security of network and information systems. This can range from complex and sophisticated technical attacks to system malfunctioning caused by human error.

However, when it comes to ICT systems of special importance  , such as those which are part of a country’s critical infrastructure (power supply, telecommunications, etc.) or used for banking services, they have an obligation to report incidents in their systems to competent state bodies and authorities. For example, if the incident occured in the banking sector, the operator of the ICT system needs to notify the country’s central bank.

When there are more serious incidents and attacks, which can strongly affect national defence or national security, relevant intelligence and security services and agencies (military or civilian) should be notified as well. In addition, when an incident involves and affects personal data, the national data protection authority (Commissioner, Agency, Commission, etc.) is also to be notified.

Sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish between types of incidents, as they can occur simultaneously. Below is a list of some of the types of incidents which usually require sending an incident notice to the competent state authorities:

  • Breaking into the ICT system: an attack on a computer network and server infrastructure which, by violating protection measures, enabled access to the ICT system and unauthorised influence on its operation; 
  • Data leakage: availability of protected data outside the circle of persons authorised to access data; 
  • Unauthorised modification of data
  • Data loss
  • Interruption in the functioning of the system or part of the system; 
  • Denial of service attacks [DDoS] ; 
  • Installation of malware  within the ICT system; 
  • Unauthorised data collection through unauthorised surveillance of communications or social engineering; 
  • Constant attack on certain resources; 
  • Abuse of authority to access ICT system resources; 
  • Other incidents
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Identity manipulation or misuse of personal data is a serious threat with potentially far-reaching consequences. Whether the target is a person whose personal data has been misused, or someone else, the damage can be incalculable.

Due to the complexity and different manifestations of this category of assault, it is difficult to determine the legal basis offering the most suitable protection. In the case of fraud committed using the computer belonging to another person, and resulting in material or financial gain for the perpetrator, a criminal complaint may be filed under art. 301 (Computer Fraud).  Another criminal offense, the unauthorized collection of personal data (art. 146), must be initiated via private lawsuit, and therefore the identity of the perpetrator must be known.  

If a case of identity manipulation leads to psychological harm, or damage to reputation or dignity, then compensation may be claimed using civil legal procedures. Before initiating this type of lawsuit, the identity of the perpetrator as well as evidence substantiating the claim of identity manipulation and resulting harm must be provided.


Identity manipulation is often tied to financial fraud and online theft. There are different ways you can protect yourself from these crimes: limit the amount of money that can be transferred to another account, or taken out via ATM at one time, use at least a two-factor authentication system for your finance-related logins, and destroy old bank and other identity cards with sensitive data. 

If you are a victim of identity manipulation, inform the police as soon as possible, notify the financial institutions or websites where you have accounts and temporarily block compromised bank accounts and/or cards. 

Timely risk assessment and digital hygiene are important means of  prevention and protection.

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Report to the platform

In case someone is impersonating you through a fake email or social media account, or if you are a subject of online harassment such as smear campaigns, threats, spreading hate speech or stalking, you should use the “Report” option to inform the platform about this issue. When you report the profile or message in question, you usually get an option to mark the appropriate violation of your rights and platform Terms of Service (impersonation, harassment, etc.). You can find more details on the American PEN Center website.

To prevent further harassment, it is also highly advisable to block the user(s) in question .

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Report to the police

In cases of online harassment or other forms of violations of personal rights (e.g. endangering security with threats) it is possible to report these incidents to the police or other state authority in charge of investigating or prosecuting cybercrime , as they can present criminal acts which are punishable by law. 

To see best practices for gathering digital evidence before filing a complaint, see the “File a complaint” section.

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File a complaint

When you are filing a complaint to the police, it is important for you to gather all the necessary digital evidence  and not only to copy the content of the message in question. It is often not simple, as it requires technical knowledge and patience, for which few people upset by the attack can have nerves. If you can't deal with it, call a friend, colleague or family member for help. They can also record evidence of an attack, but also deal with your account on the platform on which the attack is taking place. The documentation should contain material evidence of the attack and be classified so as to facilitate the search. Using a spreadsheet can be convenient, as attacks can be sorted by time, location, cause, duration and type of attack, reports filed on the platform, and response. This is all important information for lawyers, police, further investigation and court proceedings. Try to identify the type of attack, because some forms of online threats are still unknown to the general public, and sometimes even to the police. This will help the investigators to better understand what happened and how to look for the perpetrators.

First, you should provide relevant links or URL addresses in their integral form, i.e. if the attack occurs on social media, then you should provide an integral link of the account which sent you a threat. Then, you should save a copy of the message in an integral form containing metadata, i.e. email headers

Furthermore, it would be good to make a screenshot/print-screen of the message, image or a video included in the incident. On the other hand, if there are several segments of the incidents - you are facing-multiple SMS-s, messages received via an application on a computer or phone, etc. - you should make a screenshot of each one or possibly make a video of the entire process. 

In addition, if the harassment occurs through phone communication, then the report should contain call logs issued by the phone operator because they contain the time of the call and the number from which the call was made, which may make further investigation easier. Also, you can turn to a Computer Emergency Response Team in your country, which may provide technical support and mitigate the damage, or state bodies in charge of investigating cybercrime

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