Spyware, Viruses and Malware What’s The Difference Anyway

Posted on November 26th, 2013

Generally speaking, people tend to think that when their computer has been compromised by a hacker online, it ‘has a virus’. But did you know that the majority of these problems can be attributed to related issues, such as malware and spyware?


If these terms have gone straight over your head, here is a handy guide that explains more.

Malware, viruses, and spyware: what exactly are they?

Many computer users consider these three terms to mean the same thing – a virus infection in their computers. Whilst broadly speaking this is partially true, these terms are used to describe different things when we talk about such computer problems

Here is what each term means:



The term malware is short for ‘malicious software’, and is used to describe software which is invoked to disrupt the normal operation of a computer (such as Windows-based PC), with some types of malware being used to gather sensitive information from a computer such as account login details for online services. Malware can also be used to describe software that operates with an aim to gaining access to private computer systems or networks.

Typically, malware comes in these forms:

● Keyloggers – this type of malware records the keystrokes that a computer user makes, so that a hacker can log in to any online services using their username and password credentials;

● Payware – software that launches as soon as you boot into Windows, purporting to be an antivirus program and telling you that your system has been scanned and has x amount of viruses. It then offers to ‘clean’ your system but only if you pay some money to download the ‘full’ version of the software. People that unknowingly pay do not receive any software, nor does the warning notice go;

● Ransomware – a particularly nasty type of malware, in many cases it renders a system inoperable. It will let you boot into Windows, but then a full-screen message allegedly from the police tells you that you have ‘committed a crime’ and that you must pay a ‘fine’ of £100 or so before you can continue to use your computer. As with payware, if you pay the fine, the message does not go away, and you have just been defrauded of your money.


Computer viruses are a type of malware that, when run on a computer system, replicate itself on the system by inserting a copy of itself into applications, files, and even the boot sector of your hard drive. It has been said that over 99% of viruses are executed on computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system; the reason for this is because most computer users operating a computer using Windows rather than Mac OS X or Linux for example.


Spyware is essentially software that monitors what you do at your computer and reveals this collected information to a third party. It can track the websites you visit, or it could be even more invasive and monitor literally everything you do.

Spyware is sometimes inadvertently installed when installing some other software that may have been downloaded, and it usually runs as a browser plugin or extension (although some may run invisibly as a background process).