What is Malware?

Meaning & Definition


Malware, short for “malicious software,” refers to a category of software programs or code specifically designed to infiltrate, damage, disrupt, or gain unauthorized access to computer systems and networks. Malware is created with malicious intent, and it can take many forms, including viruses, worms, Trojans, ransomware, spyware, adware, and more. The primary goal of malware is to compromise the integrity, confidentiality, or availability of a computer, device, or network, often for financial gain or data theft.

Common types of malware include:

  • Viruses

Viruses are programs that attach themselves to legitimate files or programs and spread when the infected file is executed. They can cause a range of harmful effects, from data corruption to system crashes.

  • Worms

Worms are self-replicating malware that can spread independently, often over a network, without user intervention. They can rapidly infect multiple devices and may carry a payload that causes harm.

  • Trojans

Trojans, or Trojan horses, are malware disguised as legitimate software. Users are often tricked into installing them, and they can have various malicious functions, such as providing remote access to a hacker or stealing data.

  • Ransomware

Ransomware encrypts a user’s files and demands a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. It has been a prevalent form of malware used for extortion.

  • Spyware

Spyware is designed to monitor a user’s activities, collect personal information, and transmit that data to a remote entity without the user’s consent. It is often used for surveillance or advertising purposes.

  • Adware

Adware displays unwanted and intrusive advertisements on a user’s computer, often to generate revenue for the malware creator. While not as harmful as some other types of malware, adware can be disruptive and annoying.

  • Keyloggers

Keyloggers record a user’s keystrokes, which can include sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details.

  • Botnets

Botnets are networks of compromised computers (often called “zombies”) controlled by a remote attacker (the “bot herder”). They can be used for various purposes, including launching coordinated attacks on other networks or sending spam.

  • Rootkits

Rootkits are designed to hide malware and its activities from detection by antivirus or security software. They can provide unauthorized access to a system.

  • Scareware

Scareware tricks users into believing their computer is infected and urges them to purchase fake antivirus software to remove the non-existent threats.

  • Fileless Malware

Fileless malware operates in memory rather than relying on files stored on a computer’s hard drive. This makes it difficult to detect and remove.

Malware can be distributed through various means, including email attachments, malicious websites, infected software downloads, removable media (e.g., USB drives), and social engineering techniques that exploit human behavior. Protecting against malware requires the use of antivirus and anti-malware software, regular software and system updates, caution when downloading files or clicking on links, and a general awareness of potential threats.

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