As a netizen, you’ve probably heard of “malware” and “viruses” threatening your digital well-being. But are those the same thing? And, if not, how do they differ? Luckily for you, we are just the kind of nerds to explain that in plain, understandable terms. So – viruses vs. malware – let’s go!

Viruses vs. malware: the main difference

Malware is an umbrella term for all malicious programs. As such, a computer virus is a type of malware.

So, not all malware is viruses, but all computer viruses are malware. Yes, this also means that there’s plenty of software other than viruses (computer or smartphone) that can ruin your device’s day. 

Examples of malware and viruses

Malware is a generic term: If it’s a piece of software that is using unauthorized access to harm the user, it’s malware. A virus has a more specific definition: It’s a type of malware that spreads from device to device via infected files that the user needs to activate themselves. Other malicious programs definitely exist.

As far as I’m aware, there is no one scientific directory that classifies all malware as if they were a species of swallow, but we can list several common types. 

Types of malware

A virus replicates by spreading infected files (like pirated movies) and needs the user to activate the file it’s embedded in. It can then delete data or do a variety of other harmful stuff.
Worms can also harm the system in multiple different ways. But, unlike viruses, worms replicate themselves and don’t require a user to activate them.
A Trojan usually enters computer systems disguised as a legitimate program, similar to a virus. The main difference is that it doesn’t try to make more copies of itself or infect other files.
A rootkit grants the hacker administrator access and privileges to your device, allowing them to do everything you can.
Ransomware locks up your device or data and delivers demands of monetary payment to unlock it.
Keylogger malware records (logs) all the keystrokes you do on the device, allowing the hacker to extract usernames, passwords, and other sensitive data.
Fileless malware
Fileless malware doesn’t install itself on the hard drive - instead, it only exists in RAM. This makes the malware infection hard to detect, but it also means that it’s automatically deleted when the device is rebooted.
Spyware is used to spy on the person without their knowledge and steal their data. A keylogger could be considered a type of spyware.
Bot/botnets covertly use your device’s resources for nefarious ends, like launching DDoS attacks. You may not even notice it operating. Multiple computers infected with bots form a botnet, which allows malware creators to scale up their schemes.
Browser hijacker
Malicious mobile apps
Fake antivirus
Browser hijackers usually attempt things like changing your homepage and installing toolbars onto your browser.
Malicious mobile apps are apps on Google Play and Apple Store that appear genuine, but are actually spying on you, pushing ads, and so on (not unlike Trojans).
A fake antivirus is a type of program or attack that relies on spooking you with fake claims of viruses to make you install antivirus software, which may itself be a Trojan or simply not work.
Cryptojacking is using your device to mine cryptocurrency via the bot/botnet principle.

New types of malware – or uses for malware – are created all the time, so it takes security researchers quite some effort to remain on top of things. But what can you do to protect yourself? 

How to protect yourself against viruses?

There are several simple solutions for protecting yourself against viruses (and other malware). These include:

  1. Get an antivirus app 

Whether on a computer or a phone, software like Surfshark Antivirus is there to keep watch over your device. It can detect computer viruses as they try to enter the system, scan your files for existing infections, and more, all thanks to the tireless efforts of security researchers.

  1. Keep your software updated

Everything from your device’s operating system to individual apps you use gets updated fairly regularly. You should never postpone updates as they often contain security updates as well, patching out existing vulnerabilities and addressing new ones. It’s especially important to keep antivirus software updated to counter new threats. 

  1. Only use trusted software

Due diligence is your friend if you’re looking for new, unfamiliar software. Check the reviews both in app stores and other websites, don’t trust deals that are too good to be true, and if a website looks shady, it probably is. 

  1. Be on the lookout for phishing

Phishing tricks the user (you) into divulging information – or installing malware. Lucky for you, we have a phishing guide on how to recognize and avoid phishing attacks.  

In conclusion: Use your head and beat malware

Viruses are but a type of malware – and there’s a lot of malware going around. So while being on guard is a necessity, you can’t always expect it to suffice. So the major recommendation for dealing with viruses (and other malware) remains the same: get yourself an antivirus app.

Don’t leave malware a chance

Get Surfshark Antivirus


Are all viruses malware?

Yes. As a virus is a type of malware, all of them are malware. 

Is malware a virus?

No, malware is an umbrella term for malicious software, a category that includes viruses.

Is Trojan a virus or malware?

A Trojan is a type of malware. 

Is malware worse than a virus?

Malware is a broad category of software that hackers use to steal your data and do other nefarious deeds – and a virus is a type of malware.