I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the differences between various forms of computer infection recently. So, I’ve decided to create a sort of glossary here explaining the different terms in a way that can be understood with just a basic knowledge of computers. Because it is such a large topice, I will be doing this in a series with a new part every other week. Today, we will be looking at “Malware” and “Virus”.
Malware is probably the easiest term to define. Anything on your computer that is malicious, is Malware. It’s an all encompassing term that can be used to describe any and all infections.
“Virus” is probably the most miss-used expression relating to an infection. The word is SO miss-used in fact, that even those people that know it’s being miss-used, miss-use it. Today, you will most likely hear virus used interchangeably with malware. When someone has an infection of any kind, someone will say they have a “virus”. While not technically correct, it’s okay because everybody knows what is meant.
What a virus actually is, is a program that inserts itself into another file. A virus cannot spread without a human action, such as running an infected program.
For example, let’s say you’re friend gives you a CD with a trial version of this great new game they’ve been playing. What they don’t know is they have a virus and the installer got infected before putting it on the CD. So, you put the CD in your computer and double-click the “install” icon. The virus is then launched and starts infecting the files that are already on your computer.
Very few infections seen today are actually viruses because they either don’t infect other files, or they spread themselves without the need for any human interaction.