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While viruses like Creeper, Brain, and Morris are considered to be malware, the term actually applies to any software that threatens your computer system. Cybercriminals use malware to steal data that can then be leveraged for financial gain. This can include anything from healthcare records and passwords to credit card numbers and other personal information. The goal is to infiltrate and exploit any programmable device, service or network. Viruses, worms, spyware, trojans, ransomware, cryptojackers and rootkits all fall under the umbrella of Malware.

Different types of malware behave differently. Some spread by inserting their code into other programs, while others take advantage of flaws in other systems. Viruses and worms, for example, have been around since the early days of the internet. The Morris worm of 1988, for instance, was one of the first viral threats to grab widespread media attention. Other worms, such as the Melissa virus of 1999 and the ILOVEYOU worm of the early 2000s, spread through email and instant messaging.

The most common way that malware is downloaded and installed onto a device is through clickable links in emails, or by visiting malicious websites. Hackers also embed malware in popular peer-to-peer file-sharing services and free software download bundles. On mobile devices, malware may be delivered through a link in text messages or by using exploit kits.

Once an infection takes hold, you might notice that your device is performing slower than usual. Many malware infections take up computing resources, which leaves less power for everything else. You may also notice a decrease in the amount of available storage space. If you think your device is infected with malware, you should restart it into safe mode. Press Ctrl + F8 at bootup, and select “Safe mode without networking.” This will ensure that the operating system doesn’t load any malware.