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Malware is malicious software that steals, encrypts or deletes data; alters or hijacks core computing functions and/or monitors end users’ computer activity. Examples of malware include computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware and adware. Each type of malware serves a specific purpose. For example, banking trojans steal bank login credentials to drain victims’ accounts; ransomware encrypts files that the attacker demands money to restore; and adware displays ads (often malicious) while users work on their computers or browse the internet.

Unlike legitimate programs, which run in the background to perform normal operations, malware is designed to hide its presence and disrupt the user’s system. It is at the root of many cyberattacks including those resulting in massive data breaches, extortion, fraud and identity theft. It is used to penetrate corporate networks and even entire governments, and can crack weak passwords, bore deep into systems or spread through networks to wreak havoc in the lives of individuals, businesses, organizations and cities.

To infect a device, malware often relies on the victim to unknowingly perform an action such as clicking an infected link in an email or visiting a malicious website. But attackers have also found other ways to deliver malware. For instance, they can inject code into peer-to-peer file-sharing services or free software download bundles to spread malware quickly and widely. They can also embed it in ad campaigns and seed them on websites or within the content of messaging apps. Moreover, emerging strains of malware use new evasion techniques to hide from security administrators and antimalware products.