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What's the difference between antimalware and antivirus?

We help you navigate the worlds of antimalware and antivirus

Thanks to the power of the internet and our constantly evolving technology, common devices like smartphones, laptops, or tablets are now able to act as portals to access the world. However, although you’re are able to access the internet, it also means the rest of the world has direct access to us. Due to this, it is extremely important to ensure your devices have security software and are up-to-date.

If you choose to leave your hardware unprotected, this is going to leave you exposed to a number of threats including the theft of personal data or even malware. The result of this could be your essential financial information falling into the wrong hands, or even damage to your precious devices.

You might have heard of antivirus and antimalware which are the most common forms of security software that’s available on the market. Antimalware tends to be a more specialised product which offers users an extra layer of defence which focuses on stopping ransomware or Trojan attacks. Antivirus, on the other hand, tends to provide users with general-purpose protection to ensure your hardware is protected against pre-existing and known viruses or exploits.

Choosing the right kind of security product can sometimes be troublesome, especially considering the vast quantities of both of these types of products that are available on the market. It’s always important to make sure you don’t rush and consider all your options before selecting one for your device. To help this decision, it could be useful to examine what kind of threats you might encounter while using your machine.

What is malware?

Malware is a term that comes from “malicious software” and is attributed to software that has been made to harm your machine or you. The term didn’t actually become mainstream until the late 2000s even though it was actually invented at the same time as phrases like “computer virus”.

It’s worth mentioning that the terms “malware” and “virus” cannot be used interchangeably and aren’t synonyms. Viruses are usually a certain type of malware and are capable of self-replicating and spreading through a network. Similarly, they share this ability with a different type of malware, worms. Victims also usually have to be tricked into activating a virus by opening a malicious program or file on their device, and viruses can also be coded to perform a variety of functions.

What is antivirus software?

If viruses are just one type of malware, then antivirus software can't fight all these other threats, right?

Well, not exactly.

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Malware first rose to prominence in the early days of the internet, in tandem with the explosion in domestic connectivity. As the number of people with internet access grew, malware could spread more easily and the most common form of malware was the humble virus.

Thanks to flashy and exuberant examples like Cascade, Phantom, and Anna Kournikova, viruses received a lot of media attention. Cyber security firms capitalised on this and began to market their products as 'antivirus software', even though many of them protected against other forms of malware too, and the name stuck.

Today, so-called 'antivirus' programs will protect against a wide range of distinct types of malware. In fact, viruses themselves are becoming increasingly uncommon, as more cyber criminals abandon them in favour of more effective methods.

Are antivirus and antimalware the same thing?

Confusingly, antivirus and antimalware tools aren't the same thing. Antimalware programs also known as malware removal tools are slightly different in function to traditional antivirus.

Antivirus focuses on prevention, protecting a machine by stopping it from becoming infected in the first place. Antimalware, however, is geared towards rooting out and destroying malicious programs that have already been downloaded and activated. While there is a lot of crossover between the two tools, many security experts advise using both antivirus and antimalware tools together in order to maximise protection.

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