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Whether it’s ransomware that demands payment to unlock your data or spyware that quietly collects and transmits your information, malware is bad news. It’s a broad term that describes apps or code that damages electronic devices, stealing critical information or hijacking computer resources. Often, you may not even know that you have malware until it’s too late.

Cybercriminals distribute malware for a variety of reasons, including making money or gaining power. They can gain access to bank accounts, steal confidential information, launch denial of service attacks or hold data hostage until the victim pays a ransom. Each type of malware has a specific purpose, for example, banking trojans serve to steal credentials for online banking. Other malware is designed for industrial espionage.

Most malware attacks are triggered by a human action, such as clicking a malicious link or opening an attachment. The malware then proceeds toward its attacker’s goals.

For example, trojans masquerade as a normal program and then work behind the scenes to steal your information, allow remote access or install additional malware. Logic bombs are subsets of Trojan malware that lay dormant until a specified condition is met.

Many malware types spread without any direct user interaction, for example, adware. This generates revenue for the attacker by bombarding an infected device with unwanted advertisements. Another way malware can spread is by loading onto firmware, like the firmware of a USB stick or flash drive. The malware will then infect the device when it is plugged in.