What's the difference between antimalware and antivirus?

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The two products date back to mainstream rollout of the internet but with such similar names, the difference between antimalware and antivirus products is not immediately clear.

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 the difference between malware and a computer virus?

Malware is a blend word taken from 'malicious' and 'software'. It refers to specially crafted software that can perform various functions depending on how a hacker wishes to program it. The possibilities with malware are boundless, but the most common types of malware - or 'strains' - are often made for the purposes of stealing data such as login credentials and financial information like credit cards, keylogging, and remotely controlling a specific computer.

Malware can assume many different forms. Trojans, for example, are malicious software packages that appear to do one thing but actually just disguise the software's true capabilities. Presenting malware in this way can increase the likelihood that a victim installs it. Malware can be embedded inside Microsoft Office documents as well, though this is something Microsoft has been trying to eliminate for some time.


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Ransomware is arguably the most common form of malware circulating currently. Large teams of cyber criminals assemble to build these special malware strains that lock users out of their computers unless they pay a 'ransom' - usually a sum in the form of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. The model is incredibly lucrative and has seen countless businesses fall victim to these types of attacks.

Indeed, there are many different types of malware in existence and the term should not be confused with computer virus, although the two are often used interchangeably. You can think of 'malware' as an umbrella term and 'virus' as a specific type of malware - one that is designed to spread to other computers connected to the same network. Some malware, like keyloggers, are designed to target and collect data on specific individuals. They are often used in targeted attacks on high-profile figures and if the hacker made a viral keylogger capable of gathering data on every computer connected to the victim's network, they could end up with too much data to manage, not knowing which logged keys belong to which person.

What is antivirus software?

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

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.

What's the difference between antimalware and antivirus?

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.

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.