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Malware is any software program that has been created to exploit a device, system, or network at the expense of its owner and the benefit of the attacker. The goal of malware is usually to steal sensitive information, credentials, or financial data; disrupt operations through system damage, like corrupting critical OS files; and spread via worms, Trojans, and logic bombs.

While the objectives of malware vary widely, stealing data and extortion continue to be dominant themes. For example, ransomware attacks encrypt a victim’s data and demand a payment for access to their files. Other malware, such as RATs and banking Trojans, monitor a victim’s online activity to view passwords, credit card numbers, transaction history, and other private information.

Many types of malware try to avoid detection by antivirus programs and users. Among other techniques, malware can hide in system files, masquerade as legitimate processes, or disable security programs. It can also employ time delays and device fingerprinting to avoid detection and only execute on specific systems configurations.

No matter what the objective, most malware attacks have one common ingredient: gullibility. Attackers count on victims clicking and installing a suspicious attachment or accepting a download from an untrustworthy source. They can also use social engineering to trick you into downloading a malicious app or installing bundled software without your knowledge. Often, these apps are PUPs that display unwanted ads or lead you to dangerous sites. Alternatively, malware might slow down your device’s performance and reduce its available storage space.