Security app with malware history

What’s the difference between viruses and malware? Here’s the answer.

You're probably a tech-savvy user, but do you really know the difference between virus and malware? Here's the difference between the two.

Regardless of the operating system (Windows 11, 10, and older versions) or the platform you use, it’s always important to have a clear understanding of the difference between viruses and malware. In terms of definition, a virus is simply a type of malware. Technically speaking, if you say that your computer has been infected with malware, it is more accurate than saying it’s been infected with a virus. It just happens that the word “virus” is a more widely adopted term.

Other type of commonly known malware includes worms, Trojans, rootkits, adware, and spyware. There is also a more advanced malware called ransomware, which is used to block access to your computer until a certain amount of money is paid.

What’s Malware?

The term “malware” is used to refer to malicious software that can affect your computer’s behavior, steal personal information, gain control of the system, or display unwanted advertisements.

Malware can infect desktop computers, tablets, laptops, and mobile devices, regardless of the operating system you’re running.

Commonly known malware

There are the most commonly known types of malware you can come across on Windows and other non-Microsoft operating systems:


A computer “virus” is one of the most common and recognizable types of malware. A virus is a set of malicious code capable of replicating itself across the network between shared computers, and it’s intended to cause harm to a computer system, such as making your system almost impossible to use and, in most cases, corrupting system files.

Typically, a virus runs when someone executes an infected program from an email attachment, from software that was downloaded from an untrusted source, or someone boots from an infected storage device.

Often, the end-user won’t know their computer has been infected until the virus kicks in and takes over the machine.


This type of malware can replicate itself, but it’s meant to be more disruptive. Once a worm takes over a system, it will destroy files and information stored on the computer.


This is typically malware designed to make you think it’s safe software to gain access to your system. Trojans are usually coded to steal your personal information, such as banking information, sign-in passwords, and personal information.

Unlike viruses and worms, Trojans are not known to infect files stored on a computer or spread between computers. They’re generally distributed through email attachments and software downloads that look legit and safe.


This malicious code is designed to track your online activities without your knowledge and serve pop-ups with undesired advertisements.

They are also difficult to detect as they can discretely hide inside the victim’s computer. Some spyware, such as keyloggers, can be installed on systems to monitor users.

Like Trojans, Spyware can also collect any kind of information, including internet activities, personal information, bank account information, and a lot more.

In addition, Spyware can also disrupt users and control computers by installing unwanted software or redirecting users to unwanted sites. They can also change the computer settings and make an internet connection very slow.


This type of malware is designed to display advertisements for the purpose of generating revenue for a third party. Usually, adware is coded to track the end-user internet activities and present them with related advertisements.

These programs are generally not meant to cause harm to a computer, but they can be extremely annoying, and they can affect user experience and performance.


You don’t want to come across this type of malicious code. Ransomware is a new type of advanced malware that encrypts all the data on the victim’s computer, and then the attacker will request a monetary payment in exchange for letting the user access the computer and data again.

There are a few other ransomware variants that are more simple. Some ransomware may simply lock a system, which may not be very difficult for a tech-savvy person to get around the malware without having to issue a payment to unlock the system.

Usually, attackers try to deliver ransomware using a Trojan that disguises the payload as a legitimate file.


Rootkit is not defined as malware. Instead, it’s a set of malicious software designed with the purpose of enabling an unauthorized user to gain control of the system without the victim’s knowledge.

Wrapping things up

We depend on our computers and mobile devices to make purchases on the internet, check bank account information, communicate with other people, and much more. In an online world, staying protected from malware requires being aware of the threats and having the proper tools to prevent your system from getting infected and block attackers from stealing your information.

On Windows 11 (and 10), Microsoft bundles the operating systems with the “Microsoft Defender Antivirus,” the company’s antivirus solution that works automatically, but you can always perform a full virus scan. If you are dealing with a tough malware, you can also use it to perform an offline scan to clean your device. 

However, you can always use other security software, such as Avira, Bitdefender, Trend Micro, Norton, and many more. If you want extra protection when installing a third-party antivirus, you can also enable the Microsoft Defender Antivirus Periodic Scanning, a feature that periodically scans your computer to detect and remove viruses that the other antivirus may have missed.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].