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Malware is an umbrella term for programs that infiltrate a device without permission, cause damage or disruption to systems and devices or steal data. Viruses, worms, spyware, bots, adware, rootkits and ransomware are all types of malware.

Hackers use malware to gain unauthorized access to confidential information, disrupt operations, steal money or hold devices hostage. This malicious software is behind many of the largest and most damaging cyberattacks in history, including the 2017 ransomware attacks on US credit bureau Equifax that caused more than $4 billion in damages.

A device may be infected with malware if users click on unknown links in email or text messages, download untrusted files from file-sharing programs, share music and pictures via peer to peer (P2P) file sharing or access network servers through popular collaboration tools. Devices may also be vulnerable to phishing and social engineering tactics, such as fake pop-ups that warn of malware infections and entice users to download scam “security” programs.

Performance declines on infected devices, as the malware consumes system resources, leaving less power for other functions. An IT support team may notice an influx of tickets from users whose devices are slowing down, crashing or displaying erratic behavior. Security and IT teams may also detect unusual patterns of network traffic, such as devices communicating with unknown servers or accounts gaining privileged access to assets they normally wouldn’t. Some malware strains even alter device configurations and disable security solutions to hide their presence.