“Antivirus” and “antimalware” are two terms we hear a lot in the world of managed IT services. Most people know that certain software exists to block harmful programs and downloads, and remove them if they ever make it onto our computers. But how do they work? And what exactly are they?
Let’s start by looking at the things these programs protect your system against: viruses and malware, and their many forms.
A virus is a piece of code that copies itself and spreads from an infected program, like a Word document or corrupted download, to the rest of a computer’s systems. The copied code can destroy sensitive data and cause your system to run at significantly slower speeds. Viruses are sort of the “ancestor” of malware – in previous decades, viruses were the go-to tool for cyber criminals. Nowadays, malware is much more common.
Malware is a catch-all term for software that is dangerous for your system. This includes things like Trojans, ransomware, and adware. Viruses can also be considered a type of malware – think of it like squares and rectangles: not all malware are viruses, but all viruses are malware.
Ahh, the fearsome pop-ups! Adware is aptly named – it displays ads on your system. Often, adware comes packaged inside a legitimate service (like a free download of custom mouse cursors), and once installed, collects marketing information about your search habits to deliver targeted advertisements right to you – often in the form of annoying pop-ups, redirected search engine results, or other meddlesome methods.
A worm is a type of virus that can copy itself over and over again, and can spread without needing to attach itself to an infected document or program. Often, worms are transmitted via corrupted email attachments or web links, and once they get into a computer system, they can remove or change files, corrupt data with more malicious software, or make so many copies of themselves that they overload a computer’s storage resources and drastically slow its performance.
Trojan horse (Trojan)
Named for the wily Greeks who stormed the city of Troy hidden inside a wooden horse, Trojan horses, or Trojans, are a type of malware that looks friendly and legit on the outside, but is really prepping to take over your computer in some way. Most Trojans are hidden as downloadable programs or files – you download a seemingly legitimate application from the Internet, and as soon as you give it permission to run on your computer, it wreaks havoc by disrupting data, stealing information, or otherwise harming your system. They can also turn your computer or server into a spam email server, putting your business at risk for a website and email blacklisting.
Ransomware is a sneaky form of malicious software that is becoming a huge risk for business owners. Basically, ransomware targets a user’s sensitive data, locks it behind an encryption wall, and demands payment to restore access. Through ransomware, cyber criminals can hold data captive until they get paid – and sometimes, they won’t give access back even after payment. Keep in mind that the only 100% protection against Ransomware (or really, pretty much any malware, is to have a clean backup of your computer or server data that is not stored on the machine.
This is another creepy form of malware. Spyware hangs out in your computer, stealing sensitive data and details about your browsing habits to send to advertisers and data miners. Some spyware can go so far as to steal credit card info, bank logins, or your identity!
A keylogger, otherwise known as a keystroke logger, is a form of spyware that tracks the things you type on your keyboard – from web searches to passwords to client information and more. Sometimes, there are legitimate forms of keyloggers, like the ones companies use to keep an eye on their employees’ work habits, but malicious keyloggers also give hackers access to sensitive information like PINs and social security numbers.
So what’s the difference?
Most antivirus software targets long-established issues, like the viruses, Trojans, and worms of old. These are pre-existing threats that still pose a risk to our computer systems today. Anti-malware, on the other hand, is a bit more evolved to face 21st-century cyber security threats, like ransomware, keyloggers, and spyware.
When you’re considering computer security, your best bet is to double up. Most businesses rely on a combination of antivirus and antimalware to protect their systems: a tried-and-true offering like Webroot or Trend Micro combined with Malwarebytes, for example. Also, we highly recommend hardware-level firewalls for our business customers. Don’t just rely on your Internet Service Provider’s modem to protect your data and prevent intrusions.
Overall, the important thing is to make sure your data is protected – at Grand Technology Solutions, we’re committed to providing your business the best possible IT support at every hour of the day, and our Remote Monitoring and Management business customers receive the best industry-standard antivirus and anti-malware software on the market as part of their support package. If your computers are running suspiciously slow, you’re dealing with pop-ups, or there’s a rash of phony emails circulating your system, we can help. Call (904) 606-6011 today to learn about the antivirus and antimalware support we offer as part of our Remote Monitoring & Management subscriptions. We’ve got you covered.