What’s the Difference Between Malware and Viruses?

When it comes to security threats on your computer, so many terms are thrown around these days. Malware, virus, spyware, ransomware…it can make your head spin! What is the difference between malware and virus? That’s what we’re here to discuss today, so sit down and be ready to learn more about the seedy world of internet threats.


Just like a cold or flu virus spreads through your body, infecting it’s cells and recruiting them to replicate the virus, so a computer virus spreads it’s code into an unsuspecting, innocent program and turns it into a virus replicating machine. It then can spread from your computer to others, just like our friend the common cold. The term computer virus is used loosely, though there are many types of threats out there now that work a little differently.

A virus takes hold when a user launches a program that’s infected. They tend to keep a low profile at first, so that it can spread without being detected. In most cases the virus code infects new programs, then eventually kicks in, wreaking havoc on your system. Typically it kicks in at a predetermined day at time that was set when the virus code was written. In the early days, viruses were often mindlessly destructive, but today they are more likely to try and steal your personal information.

Difference Between Malware And Virus


Named for the Greek army that sacked the people of Troy by hiding in the infamous wooden horse, Trojan programs hide malicious code with a seemingly helpful application. Usually a Trojan program hides in a game, utility, or some other applications that performs as it should, but after a while it does something harmful. Trojans are spread when users or websites inadvertently share it with others, not realizing it’s there.


Worms act very similarly to viruses, however they don’t require the user to launch the program. A worm copies itself to another computer, then runs that copy. What makes it different from a virus is that it self-replicates. In other words, it doesn’t need a human to guide it, and it doesn’t have to latch on to another computer program. This is what makes them so potentially harmful, as they can cause significant damage if they replicate out of control. A worm penetrates the system with a goal of spreading malicious code. Worms use networks to send copies of the original code to other computers. They cause damage by consuming bandwidth, deleting files, or sending documents via email. They can also install backdoors on computers.


Adware is advertising supported software. The software sends advertisements for the purpose of making money for the person who authored it. Adware is designed to track which internet sites the user visits frequently, then presents related advertisements. While not all adware is intended to be malicious, it’s nonetheless an issue because it affects computer performance. Plus it’s just annoying.


Spyware, as its name suggests, spies on you and tracks your internet activities. It aids the hacker by giving them information about your system, without your consent. Spyware is usually hidden from its host, and can be extremely difficult to detect. Some spyware, like keyloggers (software that tracks and logs keys struck on your keyboard), are intentionally installed within an organization to track employee activities.


Ransomware  is an advanced type of malware that restricts access to your computer system until you pay a fee. You might be innocently working on your computer when a pop up invades, warning you that you’ve been locked out of your computer until you pay a fee to the cyber criminal that launched the program. Once you pay then the restriction is removed. Ransomware is increasingly becoming a problem for computer users, however, it is not as common as the others because it requires that the perpetrator stay visible enough to get payment.


Rootkit technology digs into your operating system to hide a malicious program. When an installed security program asks Windows for a list of infected files, it removes its own files from the list. It can also hide entries in the Registry.


While a bot infestation doesn’t actively harm your computer, it can assist in harming other computers. The installed bot hides itself until the owner of the bot broadcasts a command. Then the bot, with hundreds, or even thousands, of others, does whatever it’s told to do. Bots are like an army of zombie computers, doing whatever is asked of them. Scary. They are most often used to send spam, so the spammer can avoid being traced.


As you can see, there are many ways that a nefarious individual can attack your computer. This is just a little bit on the difference between malware and virus. It’s important that you have effective anti-virus protection to ensure that your personal information and data stays safe. With the right protection you can avoid these pitfalls and navigate the web safely.

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