The terms "virus" and "malware" are often used interchangeably. However, they are technically different, so the question of malware vs. viruses is an important one.
Malware is a catch-all term for any type of malicious software, regardless of how it works, its intent, or how it’s distributed. A virus is a specific type of malware that self-replicates by inserting its code into other programs. Computer viruses have been prominent since almost the beginning of the commercial internet: The first one was created in 1982 for the Apple II, and other versions quickly followed.
Viruses spread by attaching themselves to legitimate files and programs, and are distributed through infected websites, flash drives, and emails. A victim activates a virus by opening the infected application or file. Once activated, a virus may delete or encrypt files, modify applications, or disable system functions.
There are many different types of viruses. These are the three most common examples:
Besides viruses, multiple other types of malware can infect not only desktops, laptops, and servers, but also smartphones. Malware categories include the following:
Because so many types of malware and viruses are in the wild—and cybercriminals are creating more every day—most antimalware and antivirus solutions rely on multiple methods to detect and block suspicious files. The four main types of malware detection are:
IT security professionals can augment their organization's malware and virus defenses by updating and patching applications and platforms. Patches and updates are especially critical for preventing fileless malware, which targets application vulnerabilities and cannot be easily detected with antimalware solutions.
Likewise, implementing and encouraging data security best practices can be valuable in preventing data breaches. Basic best practices for password management and role-based access to data and applications, for example, can minimize the odds of a hacker gaining access to a system and limit a hacker's ability to do damage if they gain access. Regular security updates for employees can also help them spot potential threats and remind employees to practice good security hygiene.