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Malware refers to any type of software that’s designed to infiltrate or harm programmable devices, services, and networks without a user’s knowledge. It takes partial control over the device or network, enabling cybercriminals to gain access to sensitive data and make money. Each specific type of malware serves its own goals: banking trojans allow attackers to drain victims’ bank accounts, adware displays unwanted ads on the computer, and ransomware demands a sum of money in exchange for the release of encrypted files.

The first known virus was Elk Cloner, created by a 15-year old as a joke and spread through infected Apple II floppy disks in 1982. The virus was harmless, but it exemplified the meaning of malware: unwanted intrusions. Things got serious in 1988, with the discovery of Vienna, a virus that could replicate and damage system files on Microsoft Windows PCs.

What’s more, malware can cause a range of operational issues: slowing down or crashing a computer, encrypting information so it can only be read with a key known by the attacker (ransomware), and disrupting productivity. It can also change network configurations or disable security solutions to avoid detection.

As the threat landscape continues to evolve, cybersecurity teams must take into account the full scope of malware. The best way to combat malware is with comprehensive security solutions that include anti-malware, intrusion prevention, layered endpoint protection, and advanced threat hunting tools. If a computer is infected with malware, it’s usually best to restart the machine in safe mode. For Windows, you can do this by pressing Ctrl + F8 during bootup and selecting Safe mode without networking.