The Difference between Malware, Virus, Spyware and Ransomware

Going digital also means opening yourself up to a number of different threats. And true to the term ‘information technology’, keeping yourself informed is the best way  to protect yourself from different threats that technology can bring to all your data.

Among these threats, the terms ‘ransomware’, ‘virus’, ‘spyware’, and ‘malware’ are among the most familiar, but they are also the most misunderstood. Here is a brief description of each of them to help you understand what their differences are, and how they are all related.


Malware is a general term that refers to any kind of malicious software that enters your system. It is not only meant to destroy information within your computer; it is also meant to mine data from inside it, as some of the information that it collects could prove to be useful to other parties. Viruses, ransomware, and spyware are some common examples of malware.


Although other sources may tell you that malware and computer viruses are different, viruses are actually one of the most common forms of malware. A virus infects existing files and programs within your computer, rendering them useless after some time. It works the same way a biological virus works. It starts infecting healthy cells one by one and spreads throughout the rest of the body. Although there was a time when only computers were infected by viruses, the continuous rise of the digital world has also made websites susceptible to virus attacks. One of the most destructive viruses was the Stuxnet, which started spreading in 2009 but was only discovered in 2010. It caused major destruction among different software that controls industrial machinery, causing centrifuges used to enrich uranium in Iran to self-destruct.


Ransomware is a kind of malware that works the same way that kidnappers work, thus the name. They hold your system captive, either limiting your access to it or completely preventing you to have access until you pay a certain ransom. The problem is, there is still no guarantee that you will get your all your data in one piece once the ransom has been paid. One popular example was the Reveton, a ransomware released by a malware called Citadel. It showed a message on the users’ screens that the FBI has flagged their system as associated with illegal online activity, and demanded them to pay a fine to be able to use their computers and have access to their files again.


A spyware is also a form of malware. Once again, the biggest clue to understanding what a spyware is would be in the name itself. Once inside your computer, a spyware would start to monitor all the activity and data inside your computer using the most discreet way possible. It can even go as far as monitoring every keystroke and every mouse movement. Somewhere along the way, your data will become useful to other parties. Information such as passwords and banking information are often the most valuable pieces of data of them all. Most spyware appear harmless, such as the IEPlugin. Although some innocent users think that their browser needs it to work properly, what it actually does is track your usage and web activity, as well as any form data like names and addresses. This information is sold to different companies as these are necessary for matching their advertising, and marketing strategies to your profile.

There are a number of ways for all kinds of malware to enter your computer. It could be in the form of a legitimate-looking program that you have installed and downloaded, or it could also be in the form of a link sent to you through email or instant messaging.