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  • Writer's pictureMichael Paulyn

Malware vs. Viruses: What's the Difference?

Updated: Feb 3

As we march into this new digital age, our daily lives are becoming increasingly entangled with technology and the growing threat of malicious software. For many of us, malware and viruses are used interchangeably, but there's more to it than most realize. Understanding the nuances and differences between malware and viruses can be crucial in staying safe online.

Defining Malware and Viruses

Malware is malicious software and contains a wide range of harmful programs developed to covertly enter, damage, and sometimes retrieve sensitive information from a computer system. On the other hand, viruses are malware sub-types with a specific design to replicate and spread themselves by attaching themselves to other files or programs.

5 Common Malware Types

Viruses are just one malware type; as hackers evolve and their attacks grow in sophistication, it's critical to understand each kind's characteristic features and purposes. Below are the five most common malware types:

1.    Viruses

As previously discussed, viruses are malware that self-replicate and attach themselves to a specific host file or software, spreading from one computer system to another as the infected file is shared. Devices that become infected can typically experience an array of damages, including data loss, crashes, freezes, and more.

2.    Trojans

Trojans impersonate safe and legitimate software to hoodwink users into installing them onto their computers. Once the installation is complete, Trojans will perform various malicious actions, including making off with sensitive data or permitting remote access to other cybercriminals.

3.    Worms

Worms are standalone programs that can self-replicate while spreading themselves across networks, with the user being any the wiser. Additionally, Worms can exploit vulnerabilities in network protocols to replicate quickly, thereby infecting many devices in a brief period.  

4.    Ransomware

Ransomware encrypts files, locking users out of their systems and restricting them from their data. Once complete, hackers will demand the victim pay a ransom to regain access. Typically, ransomware attacks are done through phishing emails or malicious websites, which can devastate those businesses or individuals who fall victim.  

5.    Spyware

Spyware does exactly what its name says: it silently watches users and collects their information based on browsing habits without them even knowing. Cybercriminals will use this sensitive information for many nefarious purposes, such as identity theft or targeted advertising.

5 Ways to Stay Safe Against Malware

After reading about malware types, it might seem like all is lost and the criminals have the upper hand, but there is hope. Below are five simple ways to stay safe against malware and protect yourself against cybercriminals; keep reading to learn more.

1.    Update Software Regularly

Keeping your device's software updated is one of the best ways to help keep you, your data, and your computer safe from attacks and hackers. Updates help fix known vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit to access your device.

2.    Be Cautious When Online

It always pays to be cautious; this is true in the real world as it is online. Whether unsolicited emails, suspicious attachments, or questionable downloads, always being slightly skeptical can pay dividends later when avoiding malware and staying safe online.

3.    Use Strong Passwords

Employ complex, unique passwords for each account and enable two-factor authentication whenever possible to add an extra layer of security.

4.    Backup Data

Keeping your data backed up regularly can be a saving grace in case of an unexpected ransomware attack or malware. Maintaining backups of the most critical files can help mitigate an attack's effect on you and your device.

5.    Stay Informed

Lastly, it pays to stay informed and updated on the latest news in terms of cybersecurity attacks. This point doesn't mean you need to become an expert, but knowing what to look for, the terms used, and cybercriminals' tactics are critical to staying safe online.

Final Thoughts

While viruses are a subset of malware, "malware" contains a host of other malicious types with unique characteristics and capabilities. Understanding those differences and knowing what cybersecurity measures to employ to stay safe will help provide additional protection in the ever-changing digital landscape.

Hungry for more? Join me each week, where I'll break down complex topics and dissect the latest news within the cybersecurity industry and blockchain ecosystem, simplifying the tech world. 





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