View all newsletters
Receive our newsletter - data, insights and analysis delivered to you
  1. What Is
March 14, 2021updated 01 Nov 2022 4:02pm

What is malware?

Everyone hears about the dangers of malware - but what does this umbrella term actually mean?

By Ellie Burns

Malware is a term used for any software used to disrupt computer operations, infiltrate private computers, steal sensitive data, or display unwanted advertising.

The umbrella term for malicious software was initially called a computer virus before Yisrael Radai coined the phrase malware in 1990. The term can be used to refer to a variety of hostile or intrusive software, such as viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, scareware and adware.

Early malicious software, including the first Internet worm, was designed as experiments or pranks, but this has evolved to today where governments and skilled hackers deploy malware to steal sensitive data or disrupt operations.

Malware is predominantly used for criminal purposes, but there have been examples of when it was used for sabotage. These acts of sabotage rarely benefit the hackers or those who deploy the software, instead causing mass disruption or deletion of huge amounts of data.

Image: shutterstock

Are worms and viruses both malware?

Worms and viruses are among the best-known examples of malware. A computer virus is a program which embeds itself in other executable software without the user’s knowledge. When that program is run, the virus replicates by reproducing itself or infecting other programs by modifying them.

A worm, however, is a stand-alone program which actively transmits itself over a network to infect other computers. In short, a worm spreads on its own, whereas a virus needs the user to run an infected program.

The use of malware has grown alongside the growth of the internet. There are, however, tools specifically designed to combat such programs. There are many types of anti-virus and anti-malware software, which act as a scanner checking if files are legitimate or not.

Content from our partners
GenAI cybersecurity: "A super-human analyst, with a brain the size of a planet."
Cloud, AI, and cyber security – highlights from DTX Manchester
Infosecurity Europe 2024: Rethink the power of infosecurity

Some websites also offer website security scans, while an ‘air gap’ can be used as a last resort. An ‘air gap’ completely disconnects infected computers from other networks and devices – but malware has been known to beat the ‘air gap’ through such means as removable media.

Topics in this article :
Websites in our network
Select and enter your corporate email address Tech Monitor's research, insight and analysis examines the frontiers of digital transformation to help tech leaders navigate the future. Our Changelog newsletter delivers our best work to your inbox every week.
  • CIO
  • CTO
  • CISO
  • CSO
  • CFO
  • CDO
  • CEO
  • Architect Founder
  • MD
  • Director
  • Manager
  • Other
Visit our privacy policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.