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What is the Difference Between Malware and Viruses?

by Brett M. Christensen

Question from Reader:

I hear a lot about malware and virus threats. It seems that some articles I read call a threat ‘malware’ while others call what seems like the same threat a ‘virus’. Is there are a difference?  

 

Answer from Hoax-Slayer:

The term ‘malware’ is derived from the two words ‘malicious software’ and describes any piece of malicious code that can infect your computer and perform unwanted activities such as stealing information and allowing criminals to use your computer for their own purposes.

A ‘virus’ is a specific type of malware that can replicate and spread itself (like a biological virus). Thus, technically, computer viruses are actually just a subset of malware.

In fact, true computer viruses are quite rare these days and are considered much less of a threat. Criminals have moved to other types of malware that better achieve their nefarious goals.

Nowadays, although perhaps not technically correct, the terms ‘malware’ and ‘virus’ tend to be used interchangeably. If you see a news article warning about a computer ‘virus’, it is probably referring to a malware threat in general rather than a threat involving a true, self-replicating virus like those of days gone by. 

Language evolves rapidly, so it is hardly surprising that the original meaning of the term ‘virus’ – as applied to computing – has shifted a little so that it now tends to encompass all malware rather than just a specific malware type.

But, some confusion arises because the software used to protect your computer from malware (including viruses) is still generally referred to as ‘antivirus’ software. When these programs were first developed, true computer viruses were the type of malware threat that security firms were most concerned about. The companies therefore marketed the software as ‘antivirus’ software.

Modern antivirus software is designed to protect your computer from many kinds of malware, not just viruses. But, the ‘antivirus’ name has stuck and will likely remain with us for some time yet.



Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,
Hoax-Slayer