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Malware is a broad term that encompasses viruses, Trojans, rootkits and other malicious computer programs that threat actors use to disrupt devices and achieve their goals. These goals might include stealing sensitive information, making money from advertising or conducting distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

A malware infection can be introduced in many ways, but the most common method is through infected files downloaded from the Internet. These files can range from videos and software to documents and images. When an infected file is opened, malicious code hidden within is activated.

This code can perform a wide variety of actions on the device, including encrypting files and demanding payment in return for decryption keys, performing cryptojacking to verify blockchain transactions, or simply using an infected device’s resources, such as electricity and computing power, to generate cryptocurrency. These activities can result in significant performance degradation, or even complete system outages.

Malware began appearing in the 1980s, when high-level programming languages became widely used and hackers started to focus on making money from their attacks. By the 1990s, malware development had become a highly organized illicit activity with specialized groups that focused on specific crimes.

As the malware threat evolved, attackers focused on larger targets, from consumers or small businesses to large institutions. Attacks like the Stuxnet virus that sabotaged Iranian nuclear centrifuges garnered public attention due to their ability to affect physical destruction. Other types of malware are designed to steal personal or financial information from the victim, often for the purpose of identity theft or credit card fraud.