Fileless Malware: A New Threat in the Cybersecurity Field

Published with Permission by:
Lint, James R., “Fileless Malware: A New Threat in the Cybersecurity Field”, In Cyber Defense, 29 June 2017, Web,

By James Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University
Senior Editor for
 In Cyber Defense and Contributor, In Homeland Security

Currently, threats to your computer often involve some type of virus or hostile file. But fileless malware is a new and growing hazard in cybersecurity. Consequently, it presents a danger to companies and individuals.

Fileless Malware Leaves Few Traces on Your Computer

What is fileless malware? Zeltser Security Corporation defines fileless malware as “malware that operates without placing malicious executables on the file system. Though initially fileless malware referred to malicious code that remained solely in memory without even implementing a persistence mechanism, the term evolved to encompass malware that relies on some aspects of the file system for activation or presence.”

The fact that there is no file to detect, similar to a virus, makes fileless malware difficult for your antivirus software to find. It also makes protection against malware more difficult, now and in the future.

Cybersecurity Community Becoming Aware of Fileless Malware Threat

In June, the Cyber Security Awareness Lunch and Learn event in Las Vegas hosted by MJ Computer Concepts featured a speaker from the US Secret Service (USSS).  This was the same Special Agent  who also hosted the USSS Electric Crimes Task Force (ECTF) in Las Vegas.  The speaker at the Task Force meeting was Dr. Anthony J. Carcillo on the topic of fileless malware.

The U.S. Secret Service has two major areas of responsibility. The traditional and best-known mission is the protection of senior executive branch leaders. The older mission for the USSS is financial crimes, which include the prevention and investigation of counterfeit U.S. currency, U.S. treasury securities and the investigation of major fraud. This second mission has the modern USSS involved with modern cybercrimes.

During the Lunch and Learn, by MJ Computer Concepts and the ECTF meeting with Dr. Cardillo both discussed the need to protect your computer system. Both of these speakers had similar comments on the criticality of software updates and backups. The information from Dr. Carcillo was thought-provoking because there is very little information in the public domain about fileless malware.

Staying Informed Is Your Best Protection against Fileless Malware

The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) regularly publishes information about cybersecurity threats. Reviewing the US-CERT website is a useful way to learn about current threats. Also, you can sign up for tips and emails on new cyber vulnerabilities.

Failing to Update Software Increases Vulnerability to Attack

Discussions at recent cybersecurity events have shown that there is a common reason why victims are selected and attacked. Hackers commonly exploit security weaknesses in computers with outdated software, because those computers are more vulnerable to attackers. In some cases, computer owners neglected to install software updates to protect their computers and data.

What You Can Do to Improve Your Security

There are simple measures you can take to protect your computer. CNN Money Tech stated, “First, install any software updates immediately and make it a regular habit. Turn on auto-updaters where available (Microsoft offers that option). Microsoft also recommends running its free anti-virus software for Windows.”

Another way to protect your files is to use a cloud-based storage service. Cloud storage companies normally keep all their systems updated with the newest software protection and backups in case of a problem.

There are other ways to protect your computer from an attack:

  • Use a backup program for your personal or business computer.
  • Buy two or more USB hard drives and use them to run incremental backups. Use one USB hard drive at a time and set it to back up your computer files for a week. Then, change to a different hard drive and conduct backups.

If you use multiple drives for backups, valuable files and pictures will remain safer, even if your current drive gets corrupted or attacked by ransomware. The more hard drives you have in your rotation, the more likely it is that your earlier files will not become corrupted.

  • Do not click on a link that you do not recognize or download files from sources you do not know.

Although updating your systems and backing up your files is time-consuming, these computer tasks are necessary to protect you from cyberattacks. With all of the problems that viruses, ransomware and malware create, simple protective measures are worth your time and money.

About the Author

James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.

Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 45th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”

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