We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Malware?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At EasyTechJunkie, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Malware is a portmanteau, a term combining "malicious" and "software" to describe a type of program designed to steal information from or cause damage to a computer. It includes things like spyware and adware programs, including pop-ups and even tracking cookies, which are used to monitor users' surfing habits without permission. It also includes more sinister hazards, such as keyloggers, Trojan horses, worms, and viruses. In simpler terms, it is any software that is intended by the developer to cause harm or exploit people's computers or private records without consent.

The Threat Posed by Malware

The threat posed by malicious software has expanded roughly in parallel with the number of people using the Internet around the world. The earliest well-known examples of malware, which appeared during the early to mid-1990s, were largely the result of experimentation and pranks by curious developers trying to expand their skills. Many of these caused little if any actual harm, and simply resulted in uncommanded actions such as displaying a humorous image on the victim's computer screen. This gradually gave way to efforts to exploit infected computers for annoying but relatively mundane purposes, such as distributing spam email and other forms of advertising.

As Internet usage became more widespread, however, a new term was coined: cyber crime. People with bad intentions quickly realized the potential for using these same tools for stealing, extortion, and carrying out various political agendas. Other perpetrators have used dedicated software to target specific victims; this would include so-called "denial of service attacks" against large companies or government agencies, as well as programs designed for identity theft. To make matters more confusing, it is widely believed that the governments of many countries have either experimented with or have directly employed malware to carry out attacks against enemy groups or nations, as well as for intelligence gathering; experts commonly refer to this as electronic warfare.

Types of Malware

Though new types of malicious software are constantly under development, these programs generally fall into a few broad categories. Viruses are perhaps the best-known category, and consist of harmful programs designed to "infect" legitimate software programs. Once a person installs and runs the infected program, the virus activates and spreads itself to other programs installed on the computer before taking further action such as deleting critical files within the operating system. Similarly, "worms" are stand-alone programs that are able to transmit themselves across a network directly. Both types of malware can cause severe damage by eating up essential system resources, which may cause the victimized computer to freeze or crash. Viruses and worms commonly exploit shared files and databases like email address books to spread to other computers.

Less obvious but equally insidious threats include keyloggers, programs that record every keystroke the user makes and then forward that information to whomever installed the program to begin with. This makes it possible to steal information such as passwords, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers. A Trojan horse is a malicious program disguised within another piece of software that appears to be legitimate. Once installed, however, the Trojan may install a "backdoor" through which to retrieve personal information and transfer it to another computer. Hackers commonly employ these forms of malware for perpetrating identity theft.

PCs vs Macs

It is generally true that PCs are more likely to fall victim to malware than Apple Macintosh® machines. There are many theories behind why this is so. Some suggest that the sheer number of Windows® PCs in existence makes them a more profitable target. Other experts have suggested that the architecture of the operating system used in Macs is designed in a way that makes it harder to hack. Despite these advantages, Mac-oriented viruses and related hazards are out there, and reasonable precautions are just as important as they are for PCs.

Countering the Threat

Anti-virus programs are good protection when kept up to date. Some of these products can even scan email for any type of malicious or suspicious code, and alert the user to its presence, even if it is not currently recognized. Frequently, however, they miss certain types of threats, such as Trojans and spyware, so it is a good idea to run at least one anti-adware program in conjunction with anti-virus. Using a firewall is also helpful because, while it won't keep malware out, it can keep such programs from accessing the Internet and delivering personal information to the intended target.

No single product can guarantee to protect a computer from all of these malicious programs. Developers on both sides are locked in a constant battle to get ahead of the other. Ultimately, the user is the last line of defense by being cautious about opening emails from unknown sources, and steering away from disreputable websites.

Hunting Down the Culprits

While developing software to detect, remove, and undo the damage has become a profitable industry, there is also a concerted effort underway to bring those responsible to justice. This is a huge challenge because even though cyber criminals often form large underground organizations, the individual participants are typically scattered around the world, and can communicate or do their work from any location that has a computer and Internet access. Only through international cooperation can law enforcement agencies be effective; indeed such joint operations have led to some dramatic successes. Not all governments are equally cooperative, however, and some seem to turn a blind eye altogether, greatly impeding attempts to attack the problem at its source.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By anon982252 — On Dec 18, 2014

I just applied for a new credit card online and afterward, found out that malware was on my PC. Is my identity in trouble?

By anon329198 — On Apr 08, 2013

Great article! I like your explanation of the different types of malware.

Malware can wreak serious havoc on your computer. You make it clear that all PC owners need antispyware or antivirus software for added security and protection from malicious threats.

By anon254435 — On Mar 13, 2012

What is malware in a simple and easy definition?

By anon221969 — On Oct 14, 2011

Can malware record webcam video chats too?

By skipper68 — On Nov 23, 2010

A week ago,my event log started saying a secondary logon had privileges, and a fast user switch was activated. I found my (windows IE8)PC said my firewall was not on.

I re downloaded MS malware to scan the system. It runs automatically, on the third Tuesday of every month. My PC turned off at 8:20, and the event log had the fast switch,and privileges to logon KSecDD,and CHAP,and DCOMSCM.

I was told in the error records security to go to IPS security services for a snap in to diagnose the problem. MS didn't recognize the error codes. Instead,I went into my services,and turned off secondary logon privileges and the fast switch. I'm hoping this stops whatever it was. The Avast and windows security didn't catch what, or who was logging in.

Could this have been a Trojan horse not recognized? This ever happen to anyone else? PC seems fine now. Could this have made the PC shut down when it updated the malware? Never had this happen before.

By CoffeeJim — On Jul 11, 2010

After working in a field that requires the daily use of a computer, I have come to learn that the majority of malware problems occur on Windows based systems. For this reason I have started using Apple's Macintosh computers.

While there are rumors on the internet that viruses and malware do exist for Macs, I have yet to encounter any of these obstacles. I do however keep an anitvirus scanner on my system as to avoid spreading viruses and malware to my fellow PC users.

By succulents — On Feb 07, 2010

To me keyloggers are more frightening than a virus is. Just the idea of someone being able to read everything you've typed is super creepy. Might as well be standing right behind you!

I've had my anti-virus block trojans and other misc mal-ware but it's never notified me and said "keylogger" thankfully. How common are keyloggers and do anti-virus software frequently miss these also?

EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.