What is the difference between a Virus, Spyware and Malware?

This blog will explorer and discuss the differences between the computer infections known as Viruses, Spyware and Malware.

Has your computer got a Virus?

Is your Windows computer running slower than usual? Has your browser been hijacked or are you seeing annoying pop-ups. Chances are your computer has been infected with a Virus, Spyware, or even Malware, so what’s the difference?

The terms Virus, Spyware, and Malware are actually generic terms for different types of unwanted software on your computer. The difference is generally how they are delivered, their intention and how they propagate.

What is a Virus?

As Viruses generally attach themselves to executable files, they are usually spread from discs or by email attachments. They infect your programs. Files and some nasty ones can even target the master boot record and render your computer completely inoperable. So the general point is that a Virus is designed to cause havoc and be disruptive. Viruses are not so common these days because they have very little gain for the originator.

What is Spyware?

Spyware is any kind of software installed on your computer that collects your information without your knowledge, and sends that information back to the originator so they can use your that information to steal from you. Some of this information could be your keystrokes to discover your passwords, observing your Internet searching habits, changing your browser homepage or search engines pages, adding annoying website browser toolbars, or simply by stealing your passwords and credit card numbers. As Spyware is designed to secretly steal from you, it doesn't generally disrupt your computer that much. You could easily have Spyware on your PC right now without even knowing it. They are designed or used by criminals and you catch them from Phishing emails or by ‘drive-by download’ which is where you are infected by a corrupted website.

What is Malware?

Malware is short for malicious software, and is a general term used to describe other types of unwanted software that is designed to harass and extort from you. These types are infection are really nasty and are sometime known as Scareware. With a scareware attack you unwittingly download the software in the form of a Trojan or by a Phishing attack or by a drive-by download. The most common recent type comes in the form of a an antiVirus application, which then proceeds to inform you that your computer is infected with hundreds of Viruses, and that can only be cleaned if you pay for a full license. These scareware applications are nothing more than Malware that hold your computer hostage until you pay an expensive ransom. There is even another version that threatens you with Police action if you do not comply. Again these types of attacks are originated by criminal gangs often abroad.

How to protect yourself from Viruses, Spyware and Malware.

The only way to fully protect your computer from infections is to never connect it to the internet or install any software, but this is realistic. So the should take you the following actions to minimise the risks of being attacked.

Install AntiVirus

Install an AntiVirus program and run the scan function regularly. Most AntiVirus apps have a real-time scanner but this may not always protect you. All the main AntiVirus companies provide a free version, but be warned these free apps provide only a very basic protection. If you use email, Internet banking or buy anything online you should always use Internet Security.

Install Internet Security

Internet Security protects you while you are online reading emails and surfing the net, they often have a financial component that recognises you are buying stuff or banking and provides extra security. This advanced software is never free but does come with AntiVirus built in so is worth the yearly subscription.


Having AntiVirus or Internet security installed is no guarantee of not catching a Virus, Spyware or Malware. The criminals are always one-step ahead of the security industry and they always attack or attempt to circumnavigate your security software. What is more if you overtly invite the Malware onto your computer you have even less protection.

Avoid Phishing Attempts

‘Phishing’ is when you receive an email that looks legitimate and invites you to open an attachment that will infect your computer.

Avoid downloading free-stuff

Criminals target free stuff because they know you are interested in downloading media and other forms of entertainment. The truth is nothing is free as you will be bombarded with advertising at best or at worst be infected or even in trouble with the authorities.

If you do see an attachment or download a free file pay special attention to the filename — if the file is supposed to be an mp3, and the name ends in .mp3.exe, then you're certainly dealing with a Virus.