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Malware is software that exploits devices and systems at the expense of the people using them. This can range from stealing sensitive data to encrypting files and demanding a ransom for their return. It can even compromise point-of-sale (POS) systems to steal credit card and debit information. Malware is everywhere and its impact will only increase as we continue to move to a work-from-anywhere world and manufacturers add more and more devices to the Internet of Things.

Attackers use a variety of physical and virtual means to spread malware. This includes USB drives, popular collaboration tools and drive-by downloads. Attackers may also hide malware in programs or other seemingly innocent files, such as image or document files.

Often, users unknowingly install malware by clicking on links in phishing emails or downloading programs from unauthorized websites. Computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses and logic bombs are common types of malware. Viruses infect individual systems while worms replicate across networks. Trojans masquerade as legitimate programs and then try to damage their hosts, and logical bombs can be triggered or released at a predetermined time.

Hackers typically deploy malware for a number of reasons. They want to cause problems for their target’s business operation, whether it’s a virus corrupting critical OS files on one system or multiple systems being used as part of a botnet to blast out spam, send phishing attacks and perform distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Other objectives include stealing personal data and financial information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. Spyware can collect this information without the victim’s knowledge and adware bombards devices with unwanted ads.