What's the Difference Between Malware and a Virus?

Jessica Martin
June 14, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
Photo credit
In order to protect yourself, you need to know what you're up against. In this article we discuss the difference between malware and a virus and how to arm your team against both.
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It’s easy to confuse a malware attack with a virus attack. We often use the terms interchangeably. And there’s actually a reason why.

In the late 80s, when the first malware emerged and compromised computer systems, experts called it a computer virus, coining the term still prominently used today. But each cyberattack is unique, and you need to understand what you’re looking for to properly protect yourself. 

In this article, we’ll discuss both terms and give insight on how to protect your system and repel all forms of cyberattack. 

Let’s start this with the malware vs. virus debate.

How is malware different from a virus?

Simply put, every virus is malware, but every malware is not a computer virus. 

Malware acts as a blanket that covers all malicious software that could damage a website or a computer system. A virus injects contagious codes into the website/system databases. It can replace itself and spread across multiple files, folders and databases in a system. 

Types of malware

There are five primary forms of malware to be mindful of. 


Worms work on a system’s vulnerabilities. Once they find a loophole in a joint hosting environment, they destroy it entirely and move further to compromise other systems. They’ll go on endlessly if not contained. 


Ransomware attacks are when a hacker blocks a website or system, then asks for a ransom (usually in the form of cryptocurrency) to unblock it. Ransomware attacks are not only confined to small networks. Back in 2016-17, these attacks compromised servers of major organizations too. 


A virus is a code deliberately injected into your file or a folder. The injection can be through accidental clicks on unsolicited links or from permits downloaded from unknown sources. The virus can create more of its kind and spread across the system, damaging it completely. 


Scareware works on the fear factor. For example,hackers might display popups on a user’s desktop telling them that their system is infected and they need to purchase an antivirus software urgently. Out of desperation, some users enter their credit/debit card details. 

Spyware and adware

Hackers can use both spyware and adware in tandem with each other. For example, a hacker would inject adware by displaying a random ad. In the background, spyware collects the information that a user enters. Spyware uses keyloggers to accumulate sensitive user information like their credit/debit card details, bank details, email, passwords, etc. 

Fileless malware

Unlike other malware, fileless malware does not inject any codes or try to compromise the system directly. It hides among some of the most trusted files in software. In this case, antivirus won’t be able to detect and quarantine any malware or code. 

How to protect from malware

Now that you know the types of malware, let’s talk about how to repel them. 

Install anti-malware/spyware software

If you’re reading this article without an anti-virus in your system, protect yourself now. 

An anti-virus/spyware software would scan your computer for malware, infected files and folders. It would quarantine them at first so you can remove them from your computer. 

It’s best to keep all your software and security protocols updated. Check your computer for permissions and restrict them to what’s necessary. 

Strengthen your security 

To create a secure system, you must work on your password security. Since passwords are the first line of defense, they need to be strong. 

Generally, a password with both upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, special symbols and a 14-digit volume is strong. 

Add tools like multi-factor authentication to that and you will have an unbreachable password. Besides 2-factor authentication and password security, you should look at SSL certification and enable it on the server. If there is budget concern, go with a discounted or cheap SSL certificate from reputed CA or resellers.

Also, never save your passwords on the computers. After creating a strong password, serving it to an attacker on a platter is the last thing you would want to do. 

Don’t log in to your admin accounts unnecessarily

It’s not wise to log in to your admin panel without reason. Avoid using your admin credentials to log onto social media accounts. Only log in to your admin panel to perform administrative tasks like granting access to someone or changing a setting. 

Also, while granting access privileges, ensure that people have minimum access to essential files. There should be a time limit to access too.

Update your software

We all know how important software updates are. No software is entirely malware-proof. That’s why software vendors keep coming out with updates that contain patches. 

Always update your software. When outdated, your data is vulnerable. With malware getting stronger every day, software is constantly evolving to beat it. 

Whether it’s a plugin or a CMS platform, leave nothing unattended. Create a habit of auditing your site and checking for updates and vulnerabilities. 

Final Thoughts

A virus is just one of the many types of malware that can infect your computer and erase your data. This can be devastating for businesses, and even compromise customer data along with your own.

It’s best to have a robust system that can counter all types of malware — including viruses. 

Adopt the four tips above to build a system where you can operate your business peacefully and avoid potential malware attacks.

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