If you are connected to the virtual world in any capacity – be it through a phone, a computer, or even a smart TV – you have probably heard of the word ‘virus’ used in your device’s context. Even if you simply browse the internet, you can’t miss the frequent, consistent mention of malware. Everyone’s talking about it, and everyone should. After all, the more you know, the better prepared you can be so find out now what is the difference between malware and virus.
In this post, let us dive into the world of viruses and malware and understand the difference between malware and virus.
Malware vs. Viruses: Cut From The Same Cloth?
Is malware the same as a virus? The answer is yes, and no. You have probably seen several instances where the word malware and virus have been used interchangeably. To a great extent, using one word for the other is not entirely wrong; there is certainly an overlap here. Both can cause considerable damage and massive debugging headaches. However, both need to be dealt with very differently. Let us begin by first understanding what malware means.
1. What is Malware?
Simply put, malware is a clever play on the words ‘malicious’ and ‘software’, combining them to imply that malware is essentially software with malicious intent. Regardless of how it works, the damage it causes, or its distribution parameters, all malicious software can be clubbed under the malware category.
It could be present on your computer or your website, depending on the kind and what part of your system it is programmed to attack. To put it in simpler terms, malware is the broader term, under which different malicious software can be categorized based on what their intent, attack pattern, or target are.
Web-based malware is a malicious code that somehow manages to infiltrate your website system; most likely because you visited websites that aren’t all that credible and safe, or downloaded material that was infected with the malware, to begin with. It could even infect your database, target your online systems which mainly include the operating system of your device or even its software applications.
As you can imagine, web-based malware is a serious threat that could hurt your website, and consequently your business and how it functions.
2. Types of Malware
The diversity of malware is extraordinary if you look at the several types of malicious software floating around in the virtual world today. From smart TVs to smartphones, from emails to your computer’s operating system, there is malware for everything. Here are some of the most common, almost sniper-like, targeted attackers in the malware category:
A worm is usually a standalone piece of malware that, as the name suggests, can reproduce and spread across the entire network, from one computer system to another. Worms spread by targeting and exploiting vulnerabilities in an already infected system. Or they could also be spread via email, often camouflaged as a file you might think is legit.
Much like the great Trojan Horse of Troy, the Trojan virus is a malicious computer code that can hide in another code – in most cases, a program or file that is extremely desirable – and tricks you into activating it so that it can manifest its maleficent actions. A Trojan cannot reproduce, so it needs a vehicle or a means to spread from one system to another – that is where a popular program or code comes in handy.
Most malware is really self-explanatory – take the ransomware, for instance. The malware holds your system hostage until you pay a ransom, usually in bitcoins or other types of cryptocurrency. You might (or might not) then regain control of your infected computers or other devices. Ransomware has garnered a lot of press in the last couple of years and is one of the most recent entrants on the malware scene.
* Adware and Spyware:
Perhaps the most annoying of them all, the adware will bombard you with pop-ups of unwanted advertising. They’ll suggest you buy products that you might be interested in. Usually, spyware helps in relaying your interests to adware so that the ads appearing are somewhat relevant but very irritating. But that’s not all.
Spyware might be secretly looking at your browser history, using your computer’s information, detecting vulnerabilities, recording your keystrokes for passwords… the list goes on. Keyloggers, types of spyware specifically only interested in your keystrokes, could steal your credit card information, bank details, passwords, account details, and other sensitive and personal data.
This malware scares you into revealing information like your bank details and other financial data, for instance, or buying malware blocking products that are in fact malware! They too, bombard you with pop-ups alerting you about possible malware attacks and infections. This may alarm you into clicking those pop-ups. In turn, it infects your system or prompts you to give away credit card details to buy the (fake) malware blocker that promises to help you.
That’s just the tip of the malware iceberg. There are tons of more examples with multiple ways of attacking, and new ones are probably being made as we speak.
Let’s now take a look at the virus, which perhaps is the most widely-known term for any entity causing malicious activity. Remember the Y2K virus hoax at the turn of the century? The virus is usually incorrectly attributed to all sorts of malware.
3. What is a Virus?
A virus, much like a worm, a trojan, scareware, spyware, adware, ransomware, etc., is a very specific form of malware. In other words, a virus is a malware, but not all malware are viruses. It usually works by self-replicating, and inserting its malicious code into other programs to corrupt them.
Calling viruses ‘a tale as old as time’ is perhaps apt, as they have been around ever since the time the internet came into its own. In fact, the first known virus was created in 1982 for the Apple II.
Ever since then, the much-feared virus has been haunting us with its limitless potential to inflict damage. It has somehow managed to create such a strong impression that the majority still associate any and all malicious entities with the humble virus.
A virus will usually attach itself inconspicuously to a file or program, and infect it.
Interestingly, it can also lay dormant at times, coming alive to infect other websites, flash drives, emails, attachments, and others it comes in contact with. Talk about biomimicry!
When an unsuspecting new victim opens a file or an email attachment, the virus replicates itself. It then attaches itself to this new computer and infects it. This simple modus operandi allows the virus to further its agenda of increasing its infection zone – much like the six degrees of separation theory. It is scary if you think about it because one infected system could possibly infect many other systems!
4. What’s Common Between Malware and A Virus?
Essentially, both malware and viruses are programs that can attack digital devices like your computer, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, trackers, home automation systems, etc. Both entities can cause massive issues for your systems, steal or damage data, or simply make your system vulnerable to newer, stronger attacks that could have far more severe consequences.
Both can be equally damaging if you don’t know how to spot them, identify them, and deal with them in an appropriate way using the ideal solutions.
Malware is, therefore, an umbrella term which has now come to symbolize your worst nightmares related to your digital platforms and devices. Computer viruses have been around for a while, making them what you might call a legacy threat.
But the role of the virus is somewhat limited today. Other malware formats have become more common simply because of the large spectrum of targeted damage they can inflict. Think of it as diversification to inflict maximum damage.
5. Should You Use Anti-Malware Or Anti-Virus?
Given the popularity of the virus it makes sense that most companies providing security tools for these cyber threats call themselves anti-virus companies. However, there is a major difference between anti-virus and anti-malware solutions, just like there is a difference between a virus and malware.
And these differences go way beyond semantics. It helps understand what you are dealing with and what steps to take precautions.
What’s an Anti-Virus?
An anti-virus software deals with the comparatively humble virus, which by virtue of its age, is now a well-established threat. The virus hasn’t evolved too much, so the solution – anti-virus – also has retained its original character.
What’s an Anti-Malware?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the anti-malware software. Think of it as the more tech-savvy cousin of the anti-virus. It is equipped to deal with newer, dynamic threats that change rapidly. Case in point is the ransomware, which most people were unaware of until it hit us.
A simple anti-virus tool would never be able to protect users against something as advanced as ransomware. However, another type of anti-malware meant to deal with polymorphic malware may be slightly more capable to take on another malware.
And this is not to say one is more valuable than the other. The anti-virus is just as important as the anti-malware. While the anti-virus will protect against malware, the anti-malware will make your protection approach future-proof.
With regular security updates, anti-malware providers such as MalCare will make sure that you can go boldly into the future. And without having to worry about the evolving world of malware where anarchy rules. Anti-malware like MalCare come with an early-detection technology. It can detect even unknown malware, and does so on its own servers. It also allows single-click malware remover and blocks the malware from entering your website.
You could be the most cautious person in the world, but that still won’t save you from virus or malware problems. Even with excellent security hygiene with strong passwords and secured server access, it is unfortunately not unlikely that malware and viruses will still come after you.
Malware and viruses, irrespective of their differences, can create unnecessary problems for your systems. The possibilities are endless, but that doesn’t mean you should endure paranoia and sleepless nights. No matter the kind of attack, your trusted security sidekicks – the right anti-virus and anti-malware defense programs – will ensure a difficult-to-breach force shield around your systems and a future-ready never-get-attacked attitude!