Malware, short for malicious software, is any software used to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. Malware is defined by its malicious intent, acting against the requirements of the computer user, and does not include software that causes unintentional harm due to some deficiency. The term ‘badware’ is sometimes used, and applied to both true (malicious) malware and unintentionally harmful software.

Malware may be stealthy, intended to steal information or spy on computer users for an extended period without their knowledge (e.g., Regin), or it may be designed to cause harm, often as sabotage (Stuxnet), or to extort payment (CryptoLocker). ‘Malware’ is an umbrella term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software, including computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, scareware, and other malicious programs. It can take the form of executable code, scripts, active content, and other software. Malware is often disguised as, or embedded in, non-malicious files. As of 2011 the majority of active malware threats were worms or trojans rather than viruses.

Spyware or other malware is sometimes found embedded in programs supplied officially by companies, e.g., downloadable from websites, that appear useful or attractive, but may have, for example, additional hidden tracking functionality that gathers marketing statistics. An example of such software, which was described as illegitimate, is the Sony rootkit, a Trojan embedded into CDs sold by Sony, which silently installed and concealed itself on purchasers’ computers with the intention of preventing illicit copying; it also reported on users’ listening habits, and unintentionally created vulnerabilities that were exploited by unrelated malware.

Software such as anti-virus, anti-malware, and firewalls are used to protect against activity identified as malicious, and to recover from attacks.

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