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When you hear the word malware, you probably get a not-so-warm-and-fuzzy feeling. And for good reason: Malware refers to any software that is intentionally designed to disrupt, infect, steal, or damage a computer system or device. This includes apps that spy on your online activity, hijack devices for ransom, or even destroy data and files. Malware can attack all kinds of electronic devices, including cell phones, personal computers, tablets, smart televisions, and gaming systems.

There are many types of malware, but the most dangerous include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware. Viruses attach their malicious code to clean program files and then infect systems by connecting to and propagating through other programs, devices, or networks. Worms are similar to viruses, but they can spread at a much faster rate because they don’t need host programs to replicate. Trojans disguise themselves as helpful software programs and then activate after installation to provide hackers with privileged access, device or system control, or a way to steal sensitive information.

Spyware spies on a user’s device or online activities and shares the results with cybercriminals. Adware presents pop-up ads to earn revenue and can also track a device’s browser and download history in order to deliver customized advertisements. Polymorphic malware changes its surface appearance regularly, while retaining the algorithm inside, making it more difficult to detect via traditional antivirus signatures. Ransomware is a sophisticated type of malware that encrypts a device’s data and denies users access until they pay a ransom to unlock the system.