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Malware is any software designed to disrupt your computer or network, steal your information, spy on you and wreak havoc. It is at the heart of many cyberattacks, including large-scale data breaches that cause identity theft and fraud, ransomware attacks that encrypt your files and demand payment to restore them, and Stuxnet, which targeted SCADA systems and crippled Iran’s nuclear program in 2010.

Unlike a bug—which is an error in a piece of software—malware is intentionally designed to do harm. It may crack weak passwords, penetrate deep into networks, and spy on you to capture personal information or steal processing resources for its own gain. It can even wreak havoc outside of your device: the WannaCry ransomware attack paralyzed hospitals, schools and businesses in dozens of countries, and cryptocurrency miners have suffered from cryptojacking, where malware steals computing power to mine cryptocurrencies for its attackers.

A malware infection can be difficult to detect, because it often hides in the background. But look out for signs of an infestation, such as a sudden decline in performance or the appearance of pop-ups on your device. Also, keep an eye out for increased network traffic that isn’t explained by normal business activities or changes to device configurations that allow malware to escape detection.

Historically, malware spread via floppy discs and CD-Roms, but the Internet has given it an expanded arsenal of delivery methods. Hackers can spread it by attaching it to emails, sending it through instant messaging apps or using fake websites that pretend to be legitimate download sources. In addition, ad networks can deliver malware by injecting malicious code into otherwise legitimate ads.