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Malware is any computed code designed to harm or exploit any programmable device, server, or network. This is done for any number of reasons, including monetary gain, stealing confidential information, espionage, denial of access to systems or networks, leaking private data, and so on. Cybercriminals may use malware to steal your passwords, drain your bank accounts, or take control of your system, all with the goal of earning you a quick and easy ransom payout.

A full history of malware is lengthy and would include all the many different variants that have been created, from Creeper, which appeared in Apple floppy disks in the early 1970s, to Elk Cloner, which was written by a 15-year old as a joke but was actually one of the first computer viruses to cause real damage (by corrupting files). But malware started to become more serious as soon as the internet became commonplace, with worms like Vienna, which could copy itself from floppy disk to floppy disk to infect PCs, becoming a significant threat by 1988.

Today, there are thousands of malware types. A few of the most dangerous include Trojans, which disguise as useful programs to get inside systems and then execute malicious functions; RATs (remote access trojans) that allow hackers to get privileged access on devices; worms that can replicate themselves across networks; spyware that monitors user activities without their knowledge; and the latest ransomware threats, such as CryptoLocker, that encrypts users’ files and demands hard-to-trace cryptocurrency payments to unlock them.