Computer virus, malware or spyware – what’s the difference?

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Computer virus, malware or spyware – what’s the difference?


Don’t let yourself fall to being a victim of cybercrime. Learn the different threats and how to ensure your safety both online and offline.

By Aleksandar Spasov | 2nd August 2018
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Back in the day, we could say “Oh, I got a virus” and it was totally acceptable as a description of “bad” software infecting our system. Some decades later, a virus is merely a small part of the threats to your computer. With the development of the Web and coding in general, the number of possible digital threats have increased drastically.

The list of candidates to infect a computer goes long – viruses, adware, spyware, Trojans, worms, malware, ransomware, scareware, etc. Some of those terms relate to how your computer gets infected while others offer a description of what happens after your configuration is corrupted. We will look into the core of the options as we try to bring some light into the dark world of malicious programs.


The good old virus is now a subcategory of Malware in general. It needs to be executed in order to modify the infected computer by its own intention. The virus replicates itself and inserts its code into the host. Some viruses work slowly, others spread all over your system in a matter of minutes. And while security twenty years ago didn’t force the growth of virus complexity that much, nowadays we see coders use advanced engineering deceptions to take advantage of security vulnerabilities. The more refined the virus is, the easier it is for it to spread and infect numerous devices across different users.

Catalysts for the usage of a computer virus vary – we have profit-seeking, political “speakers”, plain vulnerability targeting, DoS (denial of service), even self-amusement. No matter the cause, viruses are responsible for billions of dollars being lost in economics every year. By corrupting data, they can cause system failures, usage of unneeded resources, higher maintenance costs, and much more.

Solid precautions towards viruses are unquestionable – software like Bitdefender offers cross-platform security for users of various devices. Unlike viruses, antivirus software doesn’t slow down your system (at least the good ones don’t), and you get multi-layered malware protection, Webcam protection, and Automatic upgrades to keep in pace with possible threats out there.


Malware is the common denominator of all malicious software (it comes to mind easily that the term is a combination of the latter mentioned). It is used to describe the whole volume of hostile program codes, attacking your computer. They can come in the form of scripts, active content, or executable files. You can “catch” malware by visiting an untrusted webpage, by downloading from an unauthorized site, or by joining an unregulated network, be it public or home.

All malware acts with the intention of harming you. It doesn’t act randomly, switching from “good” to “bad”, so you need to act on it as soon as you see a problem with your computer. Some ways of protecting against it consist of trusted antivirus software, upgraded firewalls, or just proper monitoring process on all visited pages in the Web.

Antivirus software like Norton helps against the receiving and eliminates already existing threats to your system. All versions of the program form a defense against viruses, spyware, ransomware. They also provide protection for your personal and financial information, with constant development of malware detection speed.


Spyware, as the name suggests, is software designed to monitor your computer’s activity. In addition to that, it gathers information with the intention of presenting it to other parties. The only “innocent” spyware comes in the form of Cookies. We have all seen the “We use Cookies” message on a certain website. We click “I accept/I agree” and we continue browsing. Apart from this, the most popular forms of spyware are adware, Trojans, and system monitors.

Adware’s intent is to generate profits for developers by endless generating of online ads. You don’t need to be operating in a browser to get pop-up advertisements – an Internet connection is enough, once you are infected with adware. Even if you don’t click on the annoying windows, you still contribute to the revenue increase unwillingly.

Trojan horses, much like in Ancient Greece, act as a threat in disguise. They find a backdoor to “enter” the desired computer and act towards getting access to personal and financial data. Trojans can also spread to other devices in your network, and are often used to enable ransomware attacks. This adds the element of ransom to stop your data from public exposure.

McAfee is another antivirus software that offers various types of protection against spyware, along with other forms of malware. With 24/7 support and one of the highest virus removal percentages, your system will be safe from unwanted attacks at all times.

Written by
Aleksandar Spasov
Aleksander is a freelancer from Bulgaria. He's travelled and is still travelling around the the world and has been writing and studying as he goes. He describes himself as a bit of a word freak and this is clear from his studies in English and Journalism.Although he is knowledgeable in a lot of areas, he has been researching and writing about anti-virus as his most recent interest. Read more.
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