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What’s the difference between Malware and Viruses?

So what’s the difference between Malware and Viruses?  Most people consider any software that threatens your computer and/or network to be a virus but more commonly the term used these days is “malware”.  So let’s look at the two.

What is a virus?

A virus is software that can is replicating and spreads from computer to computer by attaching itself to another program.  Viruses can change existing files or disguise themselves in the system files to cause harm and continue to spread.  The majority of viruses are malicious and spread by hackers with the intent to cause damage to files, loss of reputation or some sort of fraud for their financial gain.

Of course there are some viruses that are not harmful and actually intended as a practical joke, or even just to highlight weaknesses and vulnerabilities. However these can sometimes get out of control – just like biological viruses – and cause problems.

What is Malware?

Not all examples of malware are technically viruses. The term malware is used for any software used for malicious purposes and can also be referred to as a “threat”.

For example, a Trojan Horse is not a virus because it is not self-replicating and does not alter other files. However, it is spread by tricking a user into downloading and running the program. They often masquerade as files for other purposes, such as a free video game or, ironically, a free virus scanner (such as the XPAntiVirus). The software may even appear to work as the user expected, but acting maliciously in the background.

Malware can damage your computers software and OS (Operating System). It may disable your anti-virus and firewall software/settings, leaving you vulnerable to further attacks. Malware can even download other malware to monitor and take control of your computer.  Other forms of malware include key loggers and Internet traffic monitoring to aid better targeted marketing and adverts, but can equally be used for more malicious means. You may also encounter ‘worms’ which are self-contained programs which attempt to replicate themselves and run on remote computers.

As with viruses some forms of malware-like software can be useful to administrators such as network sniffers.  These can help diagnose problems in the network, although in the wrong hands can also reveal a lot of protected information being sent across the network both wired and wireless.

Let’s explain Botnets

A network of unsuspecting home/business computers remotely controlled by hackers is called a ‘botnet’.  The software controlling the computer is a form of Malware. Botnets are used to send spam emails, run malware that attempts to break into other computers, or launch DoS (Denial of Service) attacks that disrupt other networks, servers, or web sites.  Large-scale botnets can even launch DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks.  With so many computers across the Internet attacking a single target it can often be difficult to recover from and also very difficult to actually trace the original perpetrator.

What can I do?

Just having anti-virus software installed on your computer isn’t always enough.  You need to think about border protection as well like spam filtering (profilter), and email anti-virus protection.  Understand the risks of receiving an email from someone you don’t know and have no trust relationships, never click on the links or download the attachments. You may already have anti-virus software and spam filtering, but as best practice it’s always worth running a third-party scanner in addition from time-to-time to ensure that no infection has split the net.

Can you spot Malware?

Sometimes it can be really difficult to spot a fake application compared to the real thing.  A little while back we wrote an article (link here) about how to spot the difference.  More information on malware and the types can be found in our Information Security section of the site.

Test your skills.

Think you can tell the difference between real applications and malware, then why not have a go at our "Real or Fake" quiz.  Good luck ;-)

Prolateral can help you

If you think you have been affected by this problem and need help then give us a call. Prolateral Consulting is an IT Security company specialising in the protection of your computer systems. Prolateral is solution partners with Symantec and eSet to help provide you the best of breed solution that is tailored to fit your business requirement.  Together with proFilter, Prolateral's first rate anti-spam and anti-phishing email filter (as known as spam email filtering) we have the complete solution.

About Prolateral

Prolateral Consulting is in business to put your organisation back in control of your own Information Technology, specialising in information and messaging security, computer forensic services, and disaster recovery planing.

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Prolateral Consulting Ltd
Luton, Bedfordshire, UK
Tel : +44 (0) 8450 763760
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