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Malware is an umbrella term for programs or code that are built with malicious intent to infiltrate, cause damage and steal data. This includes viruses, ransomware, spyware, worms, Trojans, rootkits and other types of malware. Each type makes money or gains power in a unique way for its creators. Banking trojans, for example, steal credentials to drain victims’ bank accounts while others collect sensitive information to blackmail them or gain industrial espionage advantages.

Malicious code is embedded in a wide variety of files that can be downloaded from the Internet, such as videos, pictures and software. Cybercriminals often disguise the code as a useful program to lure users into downloading the malicious file. Once downloaded, malware starts running in the background and making unauthorized changes. This can include stealing data, changing search engine results, monitoring device activity or displaying pop-ups on computers and smartphones.

Computer viruses are self-replicating threats that insert themselves into other programs and spread to other devices or network segments without a user interaction. Viruses can corrupt or destroy files, eat up network bandwidth and even damage operating systems. Computer worms exploit security vulnerabilities and spread to other computers, spreading quickly and often going unnoticed until they start eating up system resources and taking up storage space.

Ransomware is among the most harmful types of malware. Attackers encrypt your data and then demand a ransom to decrypt it. Trojan malware masquerades as a legitimate program and runs in the background, stealing data, enabling remote control or waiting for commands from an attacker. Spyware secretly gathers information and sends it to an attacker, who then uses the data for various purposes, including launching DDoS attacks or sending fake ads to web browsers.