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Virus, Malware and Ransomware – What’s the difference?


How do you avoid cyberattacks? What kind of attacks should you look out for? Advances in the field of cybercrimes have brought a variety of new threats to the digital world and it can get confusing. In 2021 alone, cybercrime cost the world a whopping $6 trillion, eclipsing the total GDP of every nation, barring that of China or the USA. The cybercrime scenario becomes even more sinister when you consider that every minute at least four organizations fall prey to ransomware attacks. 

To implement the right security measures and protocols, we need to understand the distinct differences between these threats, how they play out and how to prevent them. Working knowledge of the prevalent threats can help protect ourselves against the malicious intent of hackers and avoid cyberattacks. 

What are the different kinds of cyberattacks — Virus, Malware, and Ransomware 

The three cyber threats we will be covering in this blog are viruses, malware and ransomware. Each of these cyberattacks poses a significant threat to an organization’s data, systems and networks. While malware refers to all forms of malicious software, ransomware is a unique software that seeks to block device, system, network or database access until a ransom is paid. Malware is an umbrella term for various malevolent programs such as spyware, adware, trojans, worms, rootkits and spambots. 

On the other hand, viruses comprise malicious code, which can run rampant through an entire network of computers without alerting the user. They usually tend to slow down devices, delete files, spread spam and corrupt hard drives. 

What is a Virus? 

Computer viruses function much like viruses that infect humans. They attach themselves to legitimate files and programs, hiding in plain sight. Once activated inadvertently by an unsuspecting user, a virus can spread quickly via infected websites, flash drives and emails. 

The damage caused by a virus depends on the kind of virus involved. While some hog your device’s bandwidth, leading to a slow or lagging Internet connection, others can damage programs, cause unexpected malfunctions, destroy files and even reformat entire hard drives. These malicious actions can result in considerable operational losses for companies because of their adverse effects on business-critical processes. 

Devices become exposed to viruses in a variety of ways. 

  • Sharing and downloading files before vetting them properly. 

  • Using torrent sites to download pirated movies and software. 

  • Visiting infected websites with malicious code. 

  • Downloading email attachments before running an antivirus scan. 

  • Attaching infected hard drives and flash drives to the device. 

What is Malware? 

Malware is a common term used for all types of harmful programs, regardless of how they are delivered, designed or distributed. 

Apart from viruses and ransomware, the different kinds of malware are:

  • Trojans – Disguised as a legitimate program, a trojan tricks the user into trusting it and executing the malicious program. 

  • Worms – As a standalone malware program, a worm can quickly replicate itself and spread to other systems. 

  • Adware is a kind of malware that keeps showing up unwanted advertisements on the computer, impairing the device’s functioning. 

  • Spyware – As its name suggests, a spyware program hides in your devices to steal data and sensitive information stored therein. 

  • Rootkits – Rootkits enable hackers to gain unauthorized remote access to your computer. After gaining access, hackers can configure the device and install corrupted files. 

  • Bots – Bots are self-propagating programs that connect to a main central server. They are generally used to record keystrokes, passwords, steal data, send spam and stage DDoS attacks. 

What is Ransomware? 

Ransomware is a specialized king of malware. It has become a major threat today. Companies end up losing millions of dollars during every attack. Ransomware is usually spread through phishing attacks. Hackers send infected email attachments disguised as legitimate emails. Once downloaded, the ransomware can encrypt and lock up programs, files and devices, essentially limiting access. But what separates ransomware from other malware is that once the files are locked up, the hackers demand a hefty ransom to send the decryption key. To learn more about how to avoid ransomware, read here.

How to avoid cyberattacks and stay safe online? 

With this clear understanding of the dangers malicious programs present, here are some tips on protecting your devices. 

  • One of the first steps is to use a VPN. VPNs enable users to surf the web anonymously without giving any personal information. It protects your Internet traffic from hackers with Ill-intent. 

  • Ad blockers can potentially keep your computer safe. Malware is installed on devices when users unknowingly run infected ads on legitimate websites. Ad blockers keep these ads from running. 

  • The last step is to install antivirus software. Antivirus software is the most critical step of all. Using reputed antivirus software is key to keeping your device healthy. 

The number of cyber threats is growing day by day. It is crucial to protect your device and personal data from hackers to avoid any untoward repercussions. The foundation of cybersecurity is gaining awareness about these threats, understanding how they work and learning how to avoid cyberattacks. With this information, you can adopt the right security measures.