What Is Malware?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Delve into the realm of malware, a critical cybersecurity concern. Understand various malware forms and their impact on cybersecurity.

[Featured image] A closeup shows someone monitoring a cybersecurity feed for malware on a tablet and desktop computer.

Malware is short for “malicious software.” It is designed to disrupt computer systems like mobile devices. For example, malware may cause damage to a server or grant unauthorized access to information. Malware attacks are the most common form of cyberattack among businesses and organizations. 

Malware vs. virus: What's the difference?

Malware is an umbrella term used to describe many different types of malicious software. A virus is a subtype of malware infection. They earned their name from the way they self-replicate and spread throughout a device after infecting just one file or program. All viruses are malware, but not all malware are viruses. 


Read more: Cybersecurity Terms: A to Z Glossary

Common types of malware

The list below outlines a few common examples of malware threats:

  • Adware. Adware is unwanted software designed to display or download advertising materials on your computer. 

  • Trojans. Also known as a trojan horse, this malicious code or program disguises itself as legitimate software to trick users into downloading. 

  • Spyware. Spyware is software that installs itself on your computer. It is designed to monitor your online behavior and gather information about you to forward to a third party. 

  • Ransomware. Ransomware attacks use encryption to block access to an infected device or file until a sum of money has been paid. Malware developers sometimes leave a ransom note threatening to publish private information. 

  • Worms. A worm is a malicious program that replicates itself to spread throughout a network. Unlike viruses, this form of malware can spread to other computers within a network by exploiting security vulnerabilities. 

Related terms

Learn how to protect against malware and other cyber threats

If you’re interested in starting a career in cybersecurity, consider the Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate on Coursera. This program is designed ​​to help individuals with no previous experience find their first job in the field of cybersecurity, all at their own pace. The courses cover topics such as security models, tools that are used to access and address threats, networks, and more. 

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