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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1997, from mal- + -ware, from software, etc.


n. (context computing English) software which has been designed to operate in a malicious, undesirable manner.


Malware, short for malicious software, is any software used to disrupt computer operations, gather sensitive information, gain access to private computer systems, or display unwanted advertising. Before the term malware was coined by Yisrael Radai in 1990, malicious software was referred to as computer viruses. The first category of malware propagation concerns parasitic software fragments that attach themselves to some existing executable content. The fragment may be machine code that infects some existing application, utility, or system program, or even the code used to boot a computer system. 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.

Malware may be stealthy, intended to steal information or spy on computer users for an extended period without their knowledge, as for example Regin, or it may be designed to cause harm, often as sabotage (e.g., 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. the majority of active malware threats were worms or trojans rather than viruses.

In law, malware is sometimes known as a computer contaminant, as in the legal codes of several U.S. states.

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.

Usage examples of "malware".

For example, malware may be a version of the Trojan Horse talked about in Chapter 6.

I mean, malware is potentially more than a nuisance -- emergency systems, air traffic control, and nuclear reactors all run on vulnerable software.

Malware may look innocent enough, may even be a Word document or PowerPoint presentation, or any program that has macro functionality, but it will secretly install an unauthorized program.