On the Internet, social media, TV, radio, and even Netflix spy shows, you may hear terms like computer virus, worm, malware, spyware, rootkit, etc. They’re often used so interchangeably that you may mistakenly think they mean the same thing.
They do not.
Let’s learn more about them.
Any program that tries to harm a computer, device, or system, is called malware, short for malicious software. Malware and virus are two terms most used interchangeably. When most people say the virus, they actually mean malware. While malware is any type of malicious software, a computer virus is just one type of malware.
#2 Computer Virus
A computer virus is the earliest type of malware. Typical computers work like biological viruses. They piggyback on legitimate files while corrupting them. Viruses can be devastating because they destroy data, sometimes leaving a system inoperable. However, they’re more of a legacy threat nowadays.
#3 Computer Worms
Computer worms are similar to viruses but more sophisticated. Unlike viruses, worms don’t need human action to activate after breaching a system. They can also spread readily across networks. Some worms have more complex functions and can even drop other malware like ransomware or rootkits.
Ransomware is a kind of malware that cybercriminals typically use for extortion. It can lock a computer or encrypt data in exchange for a ransom. However, many ransomware gangs don’t even provide decryption keys after collecting the money. Interestingly, many ransomware strains, like Ryuk ransomware or Petya, are named after pop culture icons.
There are several different types of rootkits. Each gives a threat actor some form of secret control over an operating system. Kernel rootkits are particularly nefarious. They are hard to get rid of and give hackers deep control over computers. Some hackers use rootkits to open backdoors for other malware like ransomware or spyware.
As its name indicates, spyware helps hackers spy on their targets. Sophisticated spyware like the Israeli-made Pegasus can let its author read emails, text messages, and passwords or observe targets through phone cameras and microphones.
Keyloggers are also spyware, but they essentially log a target’s keystrokes. They can be found in two flavors. Software keyloggers are malware, while hardware keyloggers are baked into hardware like a computer keyboard.
Stalkerware is another type of spyware. Typically sold as security software, the Trojan allows abusers like jealous partners and stalkers to track their targets.
Named after the Trojan horse from Greek mythology, Trojan horse malware is any type of malicious software that hides its true intent to deceive targets. For example, stalker were branded as security software is a type of Trojan.
Adware is usually not dangerous, but it can be annoying. Adware throws up ads on your screen to generate revenue for marketers. Some adware may also install toolbars or browser redirectors on your computer that track your activity or trick you into opening pages to make money.
Antivirus vs Anti-Malware
Older antivirus software only stopped viruses but not other malware because it used signature-detection technology to block viruses with known signatures. This technique doesn’t work in the modern age because emerging malware threats have unknown signatures and can even change them. It’s best to use top anti-malware software that employs machine learning to recognize harmful patterns and stop malware proactively.
In addition to good anti-malware technology, rely on common sense to neutralize infection vectors. Avoid untrustworthy emails, texts, attachments, downloads, links, and websites. Remember, some websites can quietly drop malware on your computer without your knowledge.