Viruses, spyware and malware – what is the difference?

Although it is commonly known that every single information system may suffer from unwanted threats, there is still some confusion when it comes to terminology of the threats that should be prevented by the use of security software. Even though viruses are commonly spoken about, there are not the only type of danger that could do some damage to the system. The majority of malicious software are not even considered to be viruses. That is why the following text will give some basics about the most common threats each software needs to face on almost daily basis.


The term malware itself is a combination of two words – “Malicious Software” and it is used to determine each type of software created due to malicious purposes which main goal is to do some harm to computer systems of networks. This is actually quite a broad term, that connects both viruses and spyware, but also all the other types of malicious software. In that context, apart from viruses, worms and trojans (trojan horses) are also commonly used terms.

Trojan horses hide a malicious code inside an application that users tend to consider quite useful. It could be a video game, some tool or any other type of app that fulfills its purpose for some period of time, but does some harm eventually. A worm is a computer code that can spread through the system without an actual interaction with a computer user. Most of worms are actually attachments to e-mails that infect a system once when downloaded. They are not always destructive; however, they usually cause performance and stability issues.


The term computer virus was first mentioned in 1984. by American researcher Fred Cohen. Viruses are computer programs that inject their codes into some other programs. They are initiated once when a user launches a program or a software copied from an infected hard disk or USB drive. Viruses are usually well-hidden in order to be easily spread without being noticed.


Like the term itself suggests, spyware is a software which does spying activities of a user’s computer and steals user’s passwords or other personal information. This type of software may spy on websites users visit, e-mails they send and information they add to documents.

There are several ways for a system to be infected by a spyware software. The most common one is installing a spyware when installing some other program. This is also a risk when it comes to the majority of free software. Also, spyware can be installed when visiting any other website – the installation is done simply while doing some search. Links sent by e-mails are usually considered to be links towards some product, however, they usually lead to a spyware program installation file. Many antivirus programs include specifically designed components that should protect a system from this kind of software.


Based on everything said, it is essential to pay attention to computer protection. To do so, antivirus software or programs should be installed. Having in mind that there are numerous types of malicious software, an antivirus software that does nothing but protecting a computer from viruses is considered to be quite useless. The best antivirus software is the one that can protect a system from different types of malware, not only viruses, and that is something you should always have in mind.


Author: Vanja Nikolić

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