Antivirus vs. Antimalware: What's the Difference?

Plenty of terms are thrown around in discussions of cybersecurity, including antivirus and antimalware. What’s the difference? For that matter, what’s the difference between viruses and malware? It’s important to know the definitions of these terms, along with several others, if you’re serious about protecting your data from threats that could endanger your business.

When browsing for cybersecurity software, you’ve likely seen different products called antivirus, antimalware, antispyware, antiransomware, etc. So, what’s right for your business?

First off, malware is an umbrella term for any kind of malicious code, made to do harm to your computer, steal data or serve any other criminal purpose. Under the Computer Antivirus Research Organization’s malware naming scheme, malware covers a wide variety of harmful programs, including Trojans, worms, ransomware, spyware and viruses, according to Microsoft.

This means viruses are malware, but not all malware are viruses. Viruses are malicious programs meant to replicate themselves and spread. They are categorized as infectious malware, along with worms and Trojans. They infect the computer and replicate themselves to spread to more files to do damage. Viruses typically take up processing power, until the computer becomes unusable and needs to be wiped.

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Unfortunately, there has been some confusion over the difference between antivirus and antimalware. During the rise of personal computers and the internet, viruses were the most common type of malware. And became the popular blanket term for any malware. Thus, the common term for cybersecurity software became “antivirus.” Since then, many security companies have come to name their flagship security programs “antimalware.” However, some are still calling them “antivirus,” even though both types of software are known to detect and remedy a wide range of malware issues. Thus, it’s up to the buyer to determine if the software they’re purchasing covers the type of security issues they want to avoid.

Other terms to know

  • Spyware is another popular term in cybersecurity. It’s software that is implanted into a system without the user’s knowledge. Its main purpose is usually to gather information. Spyware can gather browsing habits, keystrokes or personal information. Adware is a type of spyware that delivers advertisements where there shouldn’t be, such as endless pop-ups and numerous hyperlinks on every webpage you visit.
  • Ransomware is a highly malicious software program made to target a specific system and extort the user. The program informs the user that it will release private information or block them out of their important software and application, or files until a ransom is paid, usually in the form of cryptocurrency. The ransom can be hundreds to thousands of dollars for individuals and millions for corporations.
  • Trojans and worms are delivery methods for malware programs and codes. A Trojan is malware disguised as a legitimate application. Worms are programs that infect a system and spread through networks and other computers through the uses of various methods like email, instant message programs and peer-to-peer programs.

What to look for in cybersecurity

Ideally, to protect your business’s network of computers and servers, you should get an all-around protection solution that can both prevent threats and neutralize them as they happen. Regardless of whether a product claims to be antivirus or antimalware, you should research beyond the title and make sure the product protects from all types of malware. Many of the major cybersecurity brands do this, even in their most basic packages.

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There are many free antivirus protection/antimalware programs you can download, but they don’t offer the dense protection that paid solutions do. Some antivirus programs just protect you from viruses and leave you wide open to other malware. Spyware protection is good, but full protection from all malware is better.

You also need to balance protection with the available resources of your network or computer system. Some antimalware programs can slow down an older system.

Most importantly, all employees need training on safe computer practices for keeping their computer, data and the network secure browsers. Even simple instruction on how to avoid phishing, verify an emailer and their attachments, and report suspicious activity will go a long way in defending your business’s important data. Keeping a robust cybersecurity infrastructure and training employees can prevent disasters that have cost countless companies millions of dollars.

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