Malware & Viruses - what's the difference?

The question is often asked, does anti-malware software also protect against viruses, and really what is a virus? Even many experienced PC users struggle to understand the difference when it comes to classifying malware and viruses. Techies will talk about adware, rootkits, botnets, Trojan horses, worms and so on, but what are they?

Simply put, Malware means “malicious software”. It’s a generic term for many types of threats to our computers and mobile devices. As computer viruses are undoubtedly malicious, they fall into the category of malware, just as Trojans, rootkits or spyware do.

Unfortunately software companies that produce the different anti-malware, anti-virus and internet security software, throw around the terms in a way that confuses many people. Saying that a specific anti-virus program is better than another anti-malware program is a bit like saying that a Bulldog is better than a dog.

These days most anti-virus programs provide protection against the many types of malware out there. But to make it more confusing, some companies provide anti-malware software that doesn’t detect and protect against all forms of malicious software, but rather target only specific threats.

So how do we choose the right software to protect our computers? It comes down to what it does, rather then what the marketers have called the software: read the back of the box!

What types of Malware are there?

Virus: Like a human virus it infects the software, multiplying and spreading until the host software is unusable

Trojan or Trojan horse: Like the historical Trojan horse, this malware disguises itself as a useful program. The whole purpose is for the user to think they are starting a good program, when actually the Trojan is being activated and so allowing it to take complete control of your computer, and infect it with other nasties.

Worm: Worms like to burrow through everything. They don’t need to pretend to another program, but rather spread themselves through USBs, emails or vulnerabilities in your PC’s operating system. A worm will cause a slowing in your computers performance and in your network as they spread bringing malicious behaviour.

Keyloggers: These will secretly record everything you type into the keyboard, and then pass it onto criminals, who now have access to your various passwords and banking information.

Bots: Software that is installed onto your computer, possibly through a Trojan, which then uses your computer as part of a larger network, a “botnet”, controlled by a “bot-herder”. 

Spyware: Software unknowingly downloaded onto the computer, which then collects and passes that information onto someone else. Spyware doesn’t just collect credit card info etc. but can take screen shots of what you are working on and pass that on.

Adware: Comes from the word “advertisement”. Not necessarily dangerous, just plain annoying. It may display advertising or even take the user to another website.

Rootkit: Gives the person access to your computer. It will hide itself by using other software programs

Ransome ware: Ransomeware will encrypt the user’s data and possibly lock down the entire computer, and then demand a payment before providing the un-encryption key.

Protecting your computer from malware hasn’t become any easier, with malware authors refining their code and becoming increasingly professional. The result is highly sophisticated malware whose presence is invisible to the user or only noticed when it’s already too late.

Personal and business security cannot be assured with a “silver bullet” that will protect you against every type of cyber-attack. Security on your home and business computers must be a layered endeavour, but a good place to start is by using regularly updated security software with real-time protection.

Contact us now for assistance in removing any malware from your PC’s, or setting up your internet security.