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Malware is a computer term, but do you know what it is? Bankrate explains.

What is malware?

Malicious computer software, known as malware, is a program intended to infect a computer or any mobile computer device. Malware is used by hackers for various reasons that may include to extract personal information, steal money and prevent computer users from accessing their devices. There are various types of malware. These include adware, spyware, viruses, Trojans, rootkits, worms, browser hijackers and ransomware.

Deeper definition

One of the first known malware programs was the Creeper virus, created in 1971 at tech company BBN as an experiment. Over time, malware took center stage in the technological world, with worms and viruses appearing on IBM and Apple personal computers in the early 1980s. The introduction of the world wide web and the commercialization of the internet in the 1980s saw malware become rampant.

Malware has taken on a vicious new dimension with the emergence of professional criminals who use sophisticated means to infiltrate any device without notice or permission. In some extreme cases, cyber-criminals have “locked up” computer data, thus making the information inaccessible and demanding ransom from the users before they will release it back.

One of the common ways that malware is spread is through email, usually disguised to look genuine. Sometimes, even downloads from legitimate business websites can be infected with malware. One of the most effective counter-measures is a strong antivirus software package. A well-designed antivirus protection system should be able to check any downloaded program to ensure it is free of malware. It should also be set up to scan your computer periodically for suspicious software. But no protection is absolute. A combination of personal vigilance and antivirus software will go a long way toward helping a user stay safe.

Example of malware

Malware gains access to your device through email, hacked websites, toolbars, music files, software or things downloaded from the internet. Cyber-criminals take advantage of this breach to steal personal information such as credit card details and passwords. Viruses are the most common type of malware. They spread to other devices by making copies of themselves, just like viruses that humans get.

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