We’re constantly hearing about how it’s crucial to have the latest antivirus protection on our computers, but no one ever says anything more than that. Sure, we all know that viruses and malware are bad—that’s a basic understanding. But do you know what the difference between the two are? Is there even a difference? What about other things like spyware, ransomware, worms, and trojans? We know these are harmful to our computers, but they’re not the same.

What is Malware?

Malware is a short for “malicious software”. The term “malware” describes any programs designed to infiltrate and damage our computers and its contents. When people talk about things like viruses, trojans, and spyware, they’re talking about specific kinds of malware.

Common Types of Malware

While the main goal of malware is to harm your computer, each piece of malware has its own specific purpose. To get a better understanding, it’ll be helpful to break the most common types of malware into the following categories:

Virus: Originally, “virus” was the generic term that described any bad software. “Virus” has been replaced with the term “malware”. While the two terms are used interchangeably, they don’t have the same meaning. Viruses have one goal—they want to ruin your things. A virus is a program that infect your computer and your files. Some viruses can leave your computer completely inoperable, while others delete or corrupt your files.

Worms: Worms are programs whose primary function is to infect as many computers as possible. They use a network to send copies of themselves to other computers. Because worms can spread so rapidly through a network and into any computer in their path, they are the most well-known. Occasionally, people mistake worms as viruses.

Trojan: Named after the well-known “Trojan Horse”, trojans are malware disguised as real programs. Trojans appear to be legitimate software, but they have secret malicious code that they’re running on your system. Oftentimes, trojans will create a backdoor that allows your computer to be remotely controlled by someone else.  Unlike a virus or a worm, trojans are unintentionally installed by the computer user.

Spyware: Spyware is designed to spy on you. It monitors your computer activity and collects your information. It can be as simple as tracking what websites you’re visiting or something, or something more malicious like collecting your passwords, credit card numbers, and personal information.

Ransomware: Also known as “scareware,” ransomware is a type of malware that holds your computer hostage. It can lock your computer, threaten to erase everything, and demand you pay money to have your computer unlocked.

While these are just the most common types, there are still plenty of others that you need to be aware of. Each behaves differently, and requires a different removal. The best thing you can do to fight off malware is ensuring that your antivirus protection is fully up to date.