Spotting the Difference: Malware vs. Virus vs. Spyware

May. 28, 2020

2:00-2:30AM PST

In order to ensure that your data, or your business’s data, is sufficiently protected against advanced threats, it is vital to understand the different methods of hacking-based attacks that may arise. Advanced threat protection (ATP) is a designation for “security solutions that defend against sophisticated malware or hacking-based attacks targeting sensitive data.” ATP is available in the form of both managed services and software solutions, and can vastly differ in methods and elements. However, more often than not, ATP solutions consist of an integrated approach -- utilizing “endpoint agents, network devices, email gateways, malware protection systems, and a centralized management console to correlate alerts and manage defenses.” And ATP systems and strategies are all geared at keeping user’s data and other sensitive information secure.

However, it is important to note that there are varying degrees of protection when it comes to ATP. Most are familiar with antivirus software, but “a proper antivirus recognizes and defends against any kind of software that's designed with malicious intent, not just viruses.” Due to the fact that it is incredibly difficult to monetize viruses, “the vast majority of malicious programs aren't viruses.” This necessitates full-service malware protection services that will protect against a slew of different threats, in all of their many forms.

What is Malware?

Malware is a type of “software that is specifically designed to gain access to or damage a computer, usually without the knowledge of the owner.” Malware can take a variety of forms -- from spyware to viruses, to ransomware and worms, to trojan horses and adware, etc. Experiencing heightened popularity, malware is a means for money to “be made through organized Internet crime.” Utilized for economic gains, vandalism, and the destruction of targeted machines, malware can be incredibly detrimental to both you and your devices. 

In order to prevent any variety of malware from affecting your device and derailing your work, harming your data, or causing undue economic distress, multi-layered malware protection safeguards are advised -- “along with high-level network visibility and intelligence.”

What is a Virus?

A device can “contract” a virus “when the user launches an infected program or boots from an infected disk or USB drive.” With the ability to give rise to grave technological damages, a computer virus is “a type of [malware, or] malicious code or program written to alter the way a computer operates and is designed to spread from one computer to another.” Much like the type of virus that a human may fall victim to, viruses plaguing technological devices are “designed to spread from host to host,” all while continuously evolving and replicating. However, in order to reproduce, such viruses must live through files, documents, etc.

What makes viruses so frightening is their ability to remain hidden, lying dormant “until circumstances cause the computer or device to execute its code.” And once a virus latches onto one device, it can easily travel to other devices on that same network. Although some viruses are benign in nature, others are incredibly malicious and can result in the devastating harm of one’s device by “stealing passwords or data, logging keystrokes, corrupting files, spamming your email contacts, and even taking over [one’s] machine.” There are several methods in which a virus can spread from device to device, including, but not limited to illegitimate app downloads, audio and video files, “email and text message attachments, Internet file downloads, and social media scam links.” 

There are many possible symptoms of a virus plagued device:

In order to protect your device from viruses, it is advised to be extremely cautious when “surfing the web, downloading files, and opening links or attachments.” Scanning email attachments and files downloaded from file-share drives will also help to avoid viruses. Moreover, steering clear of file attachments that contain executables, like “a file with an extension like EXE, COM or VBS” will help to prevent viruses because “an executable can do any sort of damage it wants.” Whether to achieve a thrill, bragging rights, destruction, or cashflow -- those creating viruses have the power to cause physical damage to your device, as well as to provoke real economic or productivity loss for a user and/or their business.

What is Spyware?

As the name suggests, spyware is a type of malware that takes the form of “software that spies on your computer and steals your passwords or other personal information.” On the other hand, through the use of spyware, hackers may “literally spy on you by peeking through your computer's webcam.” Throughout the past several years, spyware has experienced a surge in popularity, resulting in the inclusion of antispyware elements in many of today’s antivirus software options.

Easily infecting devices and often hard to pinpoint, spyware “is one of the most common threats on the internet” and can affect a variety of devices -- ranging from iPhones to PCs. Certain activities may leave your device vulnerable to spyware, like “accepting a prompt or pop-up without reading it first,” “downloading software from an unreliable source,” “opening email attachments from unknown senders,” or even “pirating media such as movies, music, or games.” However, if your device is experiencing a spyware issue, it can often be immensely difficult to recognize. Spyware is, by nature, “deceptive and hard to find.” If your device slows or crashes out of the blue, begins running low on hard drive space, or experiences pop-ups when whether online and offline, it is very possible that it may be infected with spyware.

Spyware can take four different forms:

Although harmful, spyware can be removed and prevented. Using reputable anti-spyware solutions, refraining from opening emails or downloading files from unknown sources, and avoiding interactions with pop-up advertisements will help prevent spyware issues.

In Conclusion

Through consistent network scanning, careful measures, and full-scale malware protection services, you can avoid any and all forms of malware. Although malware will almost certainly plague all devices in varying degrees at some time or another, the right antivirus software will keep your data, money, files, and devices safe and secure.

References

Fenlon, Wesley. “How Computer Viruses Work.” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 1 Apr. 2000,

computer.howstuffworks.com/virus7.htm.

Lord, Nate. “What Is Advanced Threat Protection (ATP)?” Digital Guardian, 11 Sept. 2018,

digitalguardian.com/blog/what-advanced-threat-protection-atp.

“Malware 101: What Is Malware?” Official Site, us.norton.com/internetsecurity-malware.html.

Rubenking, Neil J. “Viruses, Spyware, and Malware: What's the Difference?” PCMAG, PCMag,

27 Nov. 2018,

www.pcmag.com/how-to/viruses-spyware-and-malware-whats-the-difference.

“What Is A Computer Virus?” What Is A Computer Virus?,

us.norton.com/internetsecurity-malware-what-is-a-computer-virus.html.

“What Is Malware? - Definition and Examples.” Cisco, Cisco, 16 Apr. 2020,

www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/security/advanced-malware-protection/what-is-malware

.html#~how-malware-works.

“What Is Spyware? And How to Remove It.” Official Site,

us.norton.com/internetsecurity-how-to-catch-spyware-before-it-snags-you.html.

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