The term ‘virus’ refers to any malicious code that replicates and spreads by infecting files and usually gain access as email attachments rendering the system inoperable or deleting your files. In simple terms, virus is a type of malware that is designed to cause havoc on your files. On the other hand, the word ‘malware’ (malicious software) is a broad term that describes all types of malicious or unwanted programs such as worms, viruses (active, contained, inactive), Trojans, rootkits, adware, nagware, spyware, and PUP(Potentially Unwanted Programs). A malware is more menacing than a virus because it not only messes up your files (viruses), but can steal personal information (spyware), hold your system for a ransom (scareware), infect through networks (worms), or enter disguised through the system’s backdoor (Trojans).
From a historical perspective viruses were the first dominant malware form to emerge in the 1980s, when PCs were becoming common place. Malware is a relatively new term, discovered only in 2006, and was completely unheard of back in those days. So, any malicious program was called a virus and the name stuck. With the emergence of newer markets, cyber criminals began to drive a change giving viruses the opportunity to evolve into the different dangerous programs we know today.
A program that prevents, detects, and deletes viruses is called an anti-virus software and a program that protects a system from any malware is an anti-malware software. The key difference between antivirus and anti-malware program is their functionality. For example, consider a scenario in which a virus-laden file is downloaded and run activating the virus. Some anti-virus programs may have basic or simple tools to delete active viruses, but today’s malware is more sophisticated and clever hiding on an infected system only to be re-initiated later. So, the AV program may not completely clean the infections, whereas an anti-malware software consists of tools that specifically remove malware out of the infected system, should a virus somehow filters through the anti virus check.
Another major difference between antivirus and anti-malware is that a virus scanner should be run at all times to inspect web traffic and catch viruses, while a malware scanner can either be run via user interaction or at a predetermined time.
An anti-virus software is of two types : on-access program and on-demand program. The former is a primary tool that actively scans your system and monitors all your activities while you browse the net ensuring you don’t click or download anything malicious. The latter is a secondary tool that conducts an in-depth scan of every file on your system. If a malware goes undetected by the on-access scanner, the on-demand scanner will find and remove it.
Malware exists in different forms such as hidden or partially corrupted file, virus initiating mechanism, or as a third party aiming to steal valuable data. An anti-virus software alone cannot keep your system 100% safe. A strong anti-malware software is needed to completely remove the virus package. Whatever program you choose, don’t assume that the anti-malware or anti virus will protect you from viruses and malware. Go through the features of the software you choose carefully, have all your bases covered, before deciding.