Virus, Worms, Trojans, Spyware... all Malware


What is difference is between a Virus and Worm? How does Spyware differs from Malware? These are good valid questions but let's cover the basics before we proceed.

Viruses, Worms, Trojans, etc. are programs, valid technical and logical programs written by programmers. What set them apart from other software is that they were designed to exploit system vulnerabilites and execute malicious payloads to the adventage of the coder.

These programs have evolved tremendously over the years and drawing the lines between then is not as easy as it once was in their beginning stages

Virus, Spyware, Adware, Trojan, Worms, Bot, Browser Hijacker are all malicious programs that are now categorized as Malware. Technically speaking they operate different than the other, their code is different and each attack a different section of the system and carry out different functions. It doesn't make any difference to the average user what these programs are called or what the technical differences are, they just want those pesky programs removed from their computers, however it makes a big difference for the network administrator and security engineers to identify the malware to implement the appropiate solution.

One of the importance of knowing more about these programs lies on what type of protection you need and the way you would react if your system were to become infected. For instance, you may buy an Antivirus software for your computer and still be infected with Adware or a Browser Hijacker.

On the other hand, let’s say your computer was infected with a virus, let’s use as an example the virus that hides your files in Documents and Desktop folders, even though it may freak you out at first it’d be somehow “a good thing” for you at the end. All your files are still intact in your system except that they are not visible, from a technical point of view there’s not much to worry about except bringing the system back to normal.

Let's look at another example, If your system were to be infected with a type of Spyware the concern would be bigger because the implications are different. Spywares don’t hide files or damage the Operating System, their functions is to sit in your computers scanning or monitoring (spying) your computer looking for information to send back to the attackers.

As you can see the implications of being infected with Spyware are different than a Virus and so should be the security solutions you implement and the way you react after a breach.

As these malware programs become more sophisticated the differences between them shrink even more, as a matter of fact many of them are Hybrid programs that infect files like a Virus, propagate like a Worm, and conceive as a Trojan. Others can Spy on you and redirect your web traffic through a proxy, the point is that it’s up to the malicious programmer to decide how the program will operate.

With that being said, let’s go over the most notorious differences in malware:

Virus: In its most basic form, a virus is a type of malware that when executed inserts itself into a program, file, memory, or a section of the hard disk to carry its function. It’s usually hidden as an executable file that requires some form of user interaction for it to run and it propagates to other devices in the network by exploiting system vulnerabilities.

Worm: similar to viruses, are a type of malicious program that attempts to propagate itself through the network without needing user interaction. It takes advantage of file and information transport of the systems such as file sharing, chatting protocols, email, by exploiting vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.

Trojan: It’s a type of malware named after the wooden horse built by the Greeks to penetrate Troy. So a Trojan is a type of insidious program the presents itself as innocuous to the user but when executed it activates itself to cause damage. Unlike Viruses and Worms, Trojans don’t replicate themselves but rather rely on user interaction.

Spyware: Whether use for legit or malicious purposes, Spyware is a type of software design to “Spy” on your while using the computers. Usually users are not aware of such programs (in the case of ones used for malicious purposes) or they may be warned in one way of another that their activities could be monitored by their employer, system owner, or third party software companies.

Adware: or Advertising Software, is a type of program that displays pop up advertisements based on web browsing habits. Similar to Spyware, there are legit and malicious use for the software, it’s very common to visit a website and get a popup video ad of the site. The technology has been exploited with malicious purpose by some company where you’d be bombarded with pop up ads promoting products or antivirus software.

Browser Hijacker: as the name implies it all, it’s a program that infects the Web Browser normal functions and redirects browser queries to different sites.

Bot: short for robot, it's a program (usually a macro) the performs some type of automatic function. Again, this is one of those programs that can be use for legit or malicious purposes.

You may ask: what does all this have to with the price of eggs when it comes to IT security? well it has a lot to do with how and what solutions to implement , for starters it helps you understand what security protection to use for your computers and and how you'd react in the event of your system being infected.

As you can see there are many type of malicious software today. Malware is a serious matter that has major implications in the life of the average citizen, the economy, and even national security. For a guideline about how to avoid viruses you can read our other article “How to Avoid Viruses”.

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