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Malware is software that causes harm to computer hardware and software. It can steal sensitive data, damage files or even render a device unusable. Common types of malware include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, ransomware and adware.

Cybercriminals create malware for a variety of purposes. Some are designed to make money, such as banking trojans that steal passwords and credit card numbers or adware that displays unwanted advertisements. Others are used for industrial espionage (e.g., Petya, which encrypts data and demands payment in cryptocurrency) or even for political reasons (the Stuxnet worm destroyed parts of a US nuclear power plant). Still others are designed for sabotage, such as the Mirai malware that created giant networks of infected devices called botnets to attack organizations.

Malware attacks can be very difficult to prevent. However, the most effective protection is personal vigilance and protective tools. Be wary of emails that appear to be from familiar companies or from friends and always use security settings on social media platforms. Be especially vigilant about clicking links or opening attachments in email messages, as these are the most popular methods for spreading malware. Infected apps also spread malware by downloading and executing malicious code on your device. Some signs of an infection might include an unusual increase in your data usage or a rapidly dissipating battery charge. Other signs might include a noticeable decrease in available storage space as the malware downloads additional files or a device that runs slower than usual.