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Malware, short for malicious software, is a term that covers many different programs designed to cause harm to devices and networks. It can steal information, interrupt how devices work and display unwanted advertising. It’s an ever-growing threat in both the corporate and domestic environment, including smartphones, tablets and even Internet of Things (IoT) equipment.

Viruses, worms and Trojan horses are all types of malware. Viruses and worms are known for spreading through computers by making copies of themselves, and they’re one of the oldest forms of malware, dating back to the first experimental computer viruses like Creeper and Elk Cloner in the 1970s. The most dangerous types of malware today are ransomware and data harvesting. Ransomware restricts access to devices and their data until a ransom is paid, while data harvesting enables hackers to steal personal details and financial information.

Signs that you have malware on your device include a slowdown in performance and a shortage of free storage space. This is because malware takes up computing resources to do its dirty work. You might also see pop-ups or notice unfamiliar prompts asking for personal information.

A good way to protect your devices from malware is to only download software from trusted sources. Avoid sites that offer multiple versions of the same popular software, as these are more likely to contain malware. You should also be cautious of clicking on links or downloading attachments in emails and text messages. Instead, type the URL of a trusted site directly into your browser.