What's the difference between antimalware and antivirus?

We help you navigate the worlds of antimalware and antivirus

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Whether it's on a personal or business device, security software is an essential tool for any computer, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. If you don't correctly protect your machine, you leave it open to being infected by a wide range of threats. This will not only potentially damage your PC, but it can also mean that attackers will steal financial data, money, or other sensitive information.

Despite this, the security landscape is now more confusing and complex than ever, with a number of different kinds of software defending multiple types of threats. This can sometimes make it a challenge to find which specific product is best for your needs.

Two of the most common types of security software are antivirus and antimalware. While it may seem they perform a similar job, they vary slightly. Antivirus software provides general-purpose protection for your devices, defending it against several known pre-existing exploits and viruses. On the other hand, antimalware tends to be more specialised by providing a layer of defence specifically designed to combat Trojans and ransomware. Even though various professionals and organisations have decided to opt for generic antivirus, many have also augmented this with other antimalware tools.

What is malware?

Malware, short for 'malicious software', is a broad umbrella term attributed to any piece of software which has been created to harm you or your machine. Even though the term was invented at the same time as phrases like 'computer virus', it didn't become mainstream until the late 2000s.

It is important to point out that 'virus' and 'malware' aren't synonyms. Viruses tend to be a very specific type of malware, commonly identified by their ability to self-replicate and spread through networks. This is a characteristic they share with worms, a different form of malware. Viruses can also be coded to perform several functions, but usually, the victim must be tricked into activating it by opening a malicious file or program.

What is antivirus software?

If viruses are just one type of malware, then antivirus software can't fight all these other threats, right?

Well, not exactly.

Malware first rose to prominence in the early days of the internet, in tandem with the explosion in domestic connectivity. As the number of people with internet access grew, malware could spread more easily and the most common form of malware was the humble virus.

Thanks to flashy and exuberant examples like Cascade, Phantom, and Anna Kournikova, viruses received a lot of media attention. Cyber security firms capitalised on this and began to market their products as 'antivirus software', even though many of them protected against other forms of malware too, and the name stuck.

Today, so-called 'antivirus' programs will protect against a wide range of distinct types of malware. In fact, viruses themselves are becoming increasingly uncommon, as more cyber criminals abandon them in favour of more effective methods.

Are antivirus and anti-malware the same thing?

Confusingly, antivirus and antimalware tools aren't the same thing. Antimalware programs also known as malware removal tools are slightly different in function to traditional antivirus.

Antivirus focuses on prevention, protecting a machine by stopping it from becoming infected in the first place. Antimalware, however, is geared towards rooting out and destroying malicious programs that have already been downloaded and activated. While there is a lot of crossover between the two tools, many security experts advise using both antivirus and antimalware tools together in order to maximise protection.

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