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Malware is the term for any app or software that compromises your device, stealing valuable information and spying on your activities. It can infect computers, mobile devices, tablets and even smart TVs. The motives for attackers vary – from making money to wreaking havoc and destroying data.

Viruses, worms and Trojans are all malware, as well as rootkits and adware. Viruses, worms and trojans spread by exploiting vulnerabilities in operating systems and software, while rootkits and adware do so by taking advantage of bugs and weaknesses that haven’t yet been patched.

To work, malware needs you to do something first – click a link or open an attachment. Once on your device, it then carries out its payload – stealing data, encrypting files, infecting more devices or stealing access to your network. It can also damage physical hardware, alter or hijack core computer functions and spy on your activities without you knowing or giving permission.

Cybercriminals use many different methods to infect devices, from hijacking messaging apps and sending infected attachments to your contacts to seeding malware-laden ads on websites (a practice called malvertising). Detecting and stopping attacks requires comprehensive cyber protection. The best defense is to segment your networks and devices so that an infected device can’t infect other devices connected to the same network, limiting or eliminating its impact. When you do find an infection, detach the device from your network as quickly as possible to prevent it from spreading across other devices and causing additional damage.