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IT Untangled: Anti-Virus vs. Anti-Malware - What’s the Difference?

Bad stuff floating around the Internet has hit infamous levels. We at VC3, Inc. are getting more and more questions about virus protections from business executives, with good reason.

Cyber security has become the million-dollar question. With cyber hacking success stories like WannaCry, which locked thousands of computers in more than 150 countries, becoming much more common, no wonder security is hot on everyone’s minds.  

But we get it. Sorting through all the different ways to protect your business, can be confusing. Anti-virus and anti-malware sound the same but, they play different roles in keeping your company safe.

We can help you decode the difference between anti-virus and anti-malware, while helping you figure out if your business needs both.  Let’s start by breaking down their roles.

What’s the Difference Between a Virus and Malware?

Before we dive too deep, let’s backtrack and get on the same page. What are viruses and malware?

Malware –  Malware is an umbrella term that includes any form of malicious software. Think: Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, worms, and you guessed it, viruses.

Virus –  Under that big umbrella term “malware,” there is this little guy called a virus. A virus is made-up of code that infects your system. It can copy itself to dive deeper and deeper in your computer to damage, corrupt, or destroy your data. 

That being said, all viruses are malware, but not all malware is a virus. Viruses are considered old school. They first became popular with hackers in the 90’s and haven’t changed much. Hackers have a few (and by a few, I mean A LOT) more tricks up their sleeves now, which is why we now have the umbrella term “malware.” Hackers may be using a virus, but their arsenal of tricks now includes stuff like worms and Trojan horses.   

What do Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware do?

Sure, it sounds like apples-to-apples, but the difference in their coverage could be the difference between getting infected and staying secure. In its simplest form, think of anti-virus as a “legacy” threat protection while anti-malware battles the new and unknown.

What are Anti-Virus’s and Anti-Malware’s Role in IT Security?

When you think of anti-virus and anti-malware, try to think of them as music genres. While each style of music has its space, you probably aren’t working out to classical any more than you are meditating to hard rock. 

Anti-virus is more like classical music. It knows how to protect you from the more predictable or “legacy” virus infections – because remember, the coding behind these kinds of viruses hasn’t changed almost at all. One of anti-virus’s primary objectives is to catch any lingering effects of an intruder. Where it thrives is eliminating malware contracted by email attachments or USB. Again, the more traditional ways of getting infected. 

Anti-malware, on the other hand, is like top 40, always changing with the times. Its whole objective is to catch and protect you from the latest threat. So, because of that, it needs to continually evolve to keep up with whatever you might find on the web.          

Does My Company Need Both Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware?

This is not a “po-TAY-toe” / “po-TAH-toe” situation. We understand why you’d be skeptical of two products with such similar names, but it’s not a marketing trick.

Anti-virus software is specially made to detect viruses. Some are however, made to identify other items like spyware and adware, it doesn't always do as good a job as an adware/spyware detector.

We run into this issue all the time where some anti-virus software will catch threats that others might miss. This is how companies get infections. If your managed IT service provider sets up multiple scanning methods with anti-virus and anti-malware detectors, you’d be able to sleep easier knowing your data is safe.

Related: You don't have to be an IT expert to understand what you need to do to manage the risk of cyber crime. Get the Executive Guide to Cyber Security.

Is There ONE Software I Can Buy That Will Protect Against All Threats?

There are, in fact, a few products on the market that bundle anti-virus and anti-malware into one subscription.

It’s also possible to use two different services and only enable the protection that you want from each provider if they aren’t competing. We’ve seen companies subscribe to two separate services and leave the anti-virus protection from both services on. You might think this offers double the protection. Unfortunately, it’s not the case.  It actually slows down computer performance.  It also hinders both programs from effectively doing their job, because they’re fighting for the same thing.

 As far as getting total IT security with one piece of software, that’s just not possible today. IT security requires a layered approach to stay protected.

Anti-virus software and anti-malware software work together to help keep your computer safe. For the most part, anti-virus will help keep your computer clean and prevent malware (spyware, adware, viruses) from installing on your computer. If adware or spyware get installed on a computer, an anti-malware software can be used to remove the malicious software. If you currently only have one or the other, talk to your IT professional about your best options for filling your security gaps as soon as possible.

IT Untangled

IT can be complicated. We're here to help "untangle" it for you.

IT Untangled aims to provide clarity on IT topics for business people. This weekly blog series will explain and discuss the complex world of IT, in words you understand. 

Related:  Ask an IT Guy: I Have the Best Antivirus - I'm Secure, Right?

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