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Malware is malicious software that attacks systems, steals information or causes damage. Examples include adware that throws unwanted advertisements on the screen or piggybacks on other programs to trick you into installing it; keyloggers that record every stroke of your keyboard and send it back to hackers; and ransomware that locks your data and demands a payment in order to unlock it.

Hackers use physical and virtual means to spread malware that infects PCs, mobile devices and enterprise networks. They can deliver malicious programs on USB drives, through popular collaboration tools or drive-by downloads that automatically install software without your knowledge. They can also infect devices using flaws or security holes in browsers, operating systems, word processors and PDF readers.

Viruses, worms and Trojan horses are some of the most common types of malware. A worm can replicate itself by attaching itself to other computer programs and infecting them with its code. A RAT, or remote access Trojan, creates a secret backdoor on the infected device so that threat actors can later move laterally. And a rootkit gives attackers privileged administrator-level access to the infected system and keeps them hidden from other software on the device, including security tools that might detect them.

Malware infections typically occur when you inadvertently take an action that triggers it to be downloaded onto your device, like clicking an infected link in an email or visiting a malicious website. You may notice your system is slowing down or that you don’t have as much free storage space as before. Staying offline as much as possible while your system is infected with malware can prevent it from sending your sensitive information to hackers.