Malware vs Viruses: What Are the Differences?

Malware and viruses are terms often used interchangeably, but they mean different things. The major difference in malware vs viruses is their capabilities. Malware is short for “malicious software,” and is any program designed to cause damage or compromise a computer’s security. It follows then that a virus is a piece of malware designed to replicate itself from one computer to another through networking protocols.

Even though there are differences between these two types of threats, both present significant risks to a business’s computers and data networks. Understanding what they are and how they differ is key to knowing how to protect your systems against them. Below is an overview of malware and how it differs from viruses.

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What Are the Differences Between Malware and Viruses?

A virus is a type of malware, but malware is not a virus. Malware is any computer program that is designed to disrupt computer operation, steal sensitive information, or gain access to private systems. Malware is used by cybercriminals and other bad actors as a tool to accomplish their goals, usually in concert with social engineering techniques.

Viruses, on the other hand, are malicious code fragments spread through networks causing damage to your system, damage to your hardware, or even data loss. They self-replicate, but unlike other types of malware (such as Trojans), a virus cannot spread without human intervention. Viruses contain a payload, which usually causes undesirable effects once a computer has been infected with it.

What Are Some Examples of Malware?

  • Trojans: Trojans are pieces of malware that try to deceive you into installing them by posing as useful applications. These malicious programs actually open backdoors that leave your systems vulnerable to other kinds of malware.
  • Ransomware: Ransomware can infiltrate your business’s network and encrypt sensitive data, making it impossible to access without paying a fee. And unlike some other types of malware, ransomware often disables security programs, so victims don’t know about the infection until it’s too late.
  • Viruses: A virus is a software program that can copy itself and infect another computer, even if it has no code of its own. This effect is known as self-replication. It’s usually initiated when you execute an infected file or visit an infected website.
  • Keyloggers: Keyloggers are often installed through browser hijacking, meaning unsuspecting users could get infected simply by visiting infected websites. Once installed, keyloggers record keystrokes and store them in text logs for attackers to later retrieve.
  • Botnets: A botnet is a widespread attack on multiple devices, designed to control thousands (or even millions) of computers in order to attack and destroy other servers, networks, and websites.

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What Are Some Examples of Viruses?

  • Web scripting virus: A web scripting virus is stealthy malware that targets prominent websites. This virus overwrites code on a webpage and inserts links that might install dangerous software on your device. Web scripting infections may take your cookies and utilize the information to publish on your behalf on the infected website.
  • Multipartite virus: Multipartite viruses spread by executing unauthorized commands on your operating system, files, and applications, infecting the whole system.
  • Boot sector virus: This virus hides as a file on a USB drive or as an email attachment. When triggered, it may damage the system by infecting the master boot record.
  • Macro virus: A macro virus is embedded in executable files. When opened, it infects every file that was created by that application on your system (usually Microsoft Word or Excel). Because Microsoft Office is widely used by businesses, macros are more likely to infect a system than other viruses.
  • Polymorphic virus: This type of virus includes two or more different strains, each displaying a different action pattern on a computer system. Some are known to infect multiple operating systems; those that can infect both MS-DOS and Windows platforms are considered double-stranded. They use random codes during their runtime, which makes it difficult for antivirus software to detect them as they mutate from one version to another.

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What Types of Devices Can Get Malware or Viruses?

PCs, Macs, tablets, smartphones, and servers are all vulnerable to malware and viruses. To protect your devices from malware attacks, make sure you have up-to-date security software installed and run regular scans.

Security software may be able to prevent existing threats from infecting your computer in the future, but it is less effective at removing malicious software that has already infected your device. Be sure to keep all security software and operating systems updated with patches for any new vulnerabilities discovered.

Do You Need Anti-Malware Software and Antivirus Software?

Both anti-malware software and antivirus protection are designed to defend your devices against malicious software. Anti-malware is a type of computer program designed to protect your computer from malware by identifying it, removing it, and preventing its re-installation. Anti-malware focuses on new threats; antivirus keeps you protected against traditional variations, like worms, that can still harm your device.

The key difference between anti-malware software and antivirus is their designations: anti-malware deals with all categories of malicious software, while antivirus usually deals with just one category. If you want solid defense against viruses, adware, spyware, rootkits, trojans, and other forms of dangerous software, an anti-malware solution is ideal for you. However, If you’re fine with defending yourself from only the most common virus threats, then consider an antivirus solution instead.

Security experts recommend having both kinds of programs available in case one doesn’t do enough to help against a specific threat. For example, if you have antivirus software but receive notification that your system has been infected with ransomware, you should look into purchasing anti-malware in order to more effectively deal with such a threat.

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Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an award-winning public speaker and a passionate writer. He writes to edutain (Educate + Entertain) his reader about Business, Technology, Growth, and everything in between. He is the coauthor of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook. Aminu loves to inspire greatness in the people around him through his actions and inactions.

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