Rather than worrying about the difference between malware and a virus and trying to identify if you have a virus on your system, you should learn how to avoid either with safe browsing and email behavior while online. There are many different types of viruses. Let’s look at various kinds of computer viruses and malware infections.
Signs of Malware or Virus Infection:
These are some of the indications that your computer system may be infected with a virus:
- Your computer starts slowing down.
- Random ads and frequent pop-up messages are displayed.
- Your system crashes.
- Your browser homepage suddenly changed.
- Unusual and threatening messages show up unexpectedly.
- Your security solution gets disabled.
- Your email gets hijacked.
Malware vs. Virus
You may wonder what are the differences between “viruses” and “malware.” Viruses are a specific type of malware (designed to replicate and spread).
What Is Malware?
Malware is a broader term for all kinds of unwanted or malicious code. Types of malware you may have heard of include viruses, spyware, trojans, worms, adware, rogueware, and even nagware.
Computer viruses can be identified by how they behave and proliferate, as well as the sectors of your computer that they affect. Here is a list of several types of viruses that your computer can be infected with:
- Boot Sector Virus (infects the master boot record (MBR) of hard disks during start-up)
- Direct Action Virus (often attaches to a .exe file; sometimes can be removed with an antivirus program)
- Resident Virus (hides in computer memory, allowing it to infect any file that is run)
- Multipartite Virus (attacks boot sector and executable files simultaneously)
- Polymorphic Virus (a self-encrypted virus designed to escape detection by a scanner)
- Overwrite Virus (maliciously destroys original program code and overwrites data in the system’s memory)
- Spacefiller Virus (fills empty sections of a file; difficult to detect)
Like human viruses, especially rampant and malicious viruses often will get their own name. The list of viruses grows as hackers devise new ingenious ways of inflicting malice. Some of the most infamous and harmful viruses of all time include crazy-sounding names such as CryptoLocker, ILOVEYOU, MyDoom, or Storm Worm.
New Computer Virus: Ransomware
One of the more recent types of malware attacks has been efforts to extort money from either individuals or municipalities by holding their digital information hostage. Sometimes the ransom is demanded in bitcoin. If you want to prepare for the most recent ransomware and protect your personal files, you should make sure to keep backups on a separate device or on secure cloud storage of important files.
How to Prevent Getting a Computer Virus:
Never click on a suspicious pop-up, especially those that warn that a virus was detected. These are typically rogueware that will ask you to pay for a virus removal program and then allow even more malware to be downloaded.
Make it a rule never to open email attachments unless you are expecting them. Even if you think you know the sender, be careful as email accounts can get hacked.
Only download browser extensions or plug-ins for Chrome and other browsers when you’ve Googled the reviews on them. Practice healthy skepticism when making any changes while online to avoid malfunctions.
Use strong and complex passwords.
Watch Extension Names and Take Care With Launching Programs.
With new apps being offered to us all the time, take care to avoid downloading executable files from the internet. On a PC, common executable files end in- .BAT, .COM, .EXE, and .BIN. While Mac computers used to be more immune from malware, they are not unsusceptible. Executable files on the Mac end with .DMG and .APP extensions. Never open files with a double file extension, such as filename.txt.vbs. This is a typical sign of some types of computer virus programs.
Programs That Can Help Ward Off Different Types of Virus
There are both free and paid programs that can protect your computer against virus infection.
According to PCMag, if you have a recent version of Microsoft Windows, you should have a free antivirus protection already installed, but you can get even better protection against malware with Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. For free programs, PCMag also recommends AVG. AntiVirus Free and Avast Free Antivirus.
However, if you really want to defend your privacy, you may wish to spring for the paid version of Bitdefender, as it offers ransomware protection and anti-tracking features.
If you want to out-smart spyware, defend against viruses as well as install parental controls, shred or encrypt files, and incorporate a password manager, you may want to pay for Kaspersky Total Security. Most antivirus and security programs are sold with a license of from one to five years, with a year’s protection costing around $20, and a 5-year plan running between $40-50, while you can get a license for multiple computers for small businesses (10 users) for under $100 for a year.
Final Notes on Computer Viruses, Malware, and Spam
Don’t get hung up too much on semantics, such as “virus vs. malware,” and instead learn how to be vigilant to protect your system from threats. Unless you are on Jeopardy, you don’t necessarily need to know that the answer to “What is a program that appears to be a legitimate application but is not?” is a Trojan horse!
What you do need to know is to be responsible about not forwarding information, emails, suggestions for programs, etc. that you have not personally checked out to be non-malicious. Make sure you have some type of protection against different malware types, whether paid or free, because it’s much easier to prevent various types of viruses and malware than uninstall them. Note that you should protect your email address because while antivirus programs will filter out most malware examples, they will not protect you from spam. To avoid spam, try switching from Yahoo mail to Gmail, which has a better spam filter and read up on other advice on avoiding spam.