Here’s an argument that geeks everywhere are all too familiar with. What is the real difference between malware and regular ol’ computer viruses?

Although often used synonymously, the difference between “malware” and “viruses” can actually define an evolutionary projection of computer infections and the progression of the internet.

Malware, a term originating from “malicious software”, is the umbrella term used for defining viruses, trojan horses, worms, and keyloggers. As long as the software disrupts the computer’s original way of functioning, it can be considered malware. While there are many different types of malware, viruses are a specific strain that is distinct in the way it infects computers and its reason for doing so.

Viruses are software that infects a number of files with the goal of impairing the targeted computer system. Similar to biological viruses, computer viruses are able to replicate and even work with other viruses to infect a computer with malicious code. While some viruses are only meant to acts as a nuisance to the user, those with more advanced code can affect the operating system’s master boot records constraining a computer from booting.

Viruses originated as an infection meant to damage and weaken systems but it was the advancement of the World Wide Web that led to a change of agenda. Stealing information became much more valuable than simply damaging systems, and thus, malware had evolved.

As the Internet became a hub of valuable personal information, new malware began to originate with the intention of stealing it. The reason why modern malware is generally less noisy than its virus predecessor is because the infection profits only if the user is unaware of its actions. By staying silent and working in the background, malware is able to gain access to some of users’ most valuable information, including passwords, email messages, and even credit card information. Modern malware has begun using viruses as a stepping stone to infecting victims. A great example of this is Win32/Sality, a family of infectious viruses that helps malware access computers by terminating security-related services.

Since the internet has changed the motive for malware, it is clear why areas where broadband is less prevalent, still suffer from the original virus infections. A recent Microsoft report shows that regions such as Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh, are still experiencing a high infection rate for viruses as opposed to information-seeking malware. Thus, the correlation between broadband connection and virus infection rates becomes more apparent. A region where broadband is commonplace is more likely to be targeted with malware because of its incentive to spread through suspicious emails and steal user information.

The difference between malware and viruses becomes clear after understanding the purpose behind both of the infections. A simple lesson on the terms can help us differentiate the problem, but there are many more questions about infections that go unanswered. One of the most popular ones being – “how do I get this pesky virus off my computer?”