Threat Encyclopedia

Viruses, Malware, or Spyware: What’s More Dangerous?

When it comes to staying safe online, some viruses are much worse than others. Ransomware and malware are pretty darn nasty. So, what should you be more worried about? And if you want to know how to protect yourself from malware or viruses that aren’t even on your radar, let us walk you through the tips and tricks in this primer.

Viruses

Viruses are an endless source of fear. They cause computer files to seize up and displays to freeze, usually with the threat that a hacker who hacked your computer will delete your files or lock you out of them forever. But they’re usually pretty easy to dodge.

Worms

From the most innocuous “fonts” and fake adware to the terrifying destructive Daemon — aka a super-serious (and fortunately rare) piece of malware that destroys your computer — there’s no shortage of nasty worms out there. But the good news is that most are pretty easy to avoid, especially the ones that try to infect your device with advertising.

Malware and Spyware

Malware and spyware are sometimes similar to viruses. They can also wreak havoc on your computer, either by secretly collecting information or by deleting it altogether. Most common malware looks and acts like normal apps or browsers and can even be downloaded from legitimate websites. These apps and browser extensions often don’t make clear to users what they’re actually doing, so it’s really best to check their permissions. On a basic level, you should always be skeptical of apps that need to log and record your activity. Keep an eye on how much data each app and website is collecting, and look for any unexpected requests for information from your computer.

Adware

Adware is a more benign variety of malware, except for the fact that adware blocks you from seeing certain types of ads — like auto-playing video ads — you don’t want to see. As such, adware can be even more annoying than a virus, because it tends to interfere with the way you experience the internet. You want to keep an eye out for shady, “chrome-style” or “pop-up blocker” extensions, which usually won’t give you many options for dealing with the adware. There are also adware patches to remove adware from your device.

Scareware

The other malware out there can also be pretty nasty. Scareware disguises itself as a security app but actually steals your personal information to sell on the black market. Some scareware apps may even try to get you to buy more, hoping you’ll pay for protection that’s really in your best interests. When you see an ad for a security app, remember that most legitimate security software doesn’t do things like make you call a premium phone number for security tips.

Ransomware

Of all the scary things out there, ransomware is probably the worst. They encrypt your hard drive and demand a ransom to return it to its pristine state. If you don’t pay up, your files will be permanently locked. Ransomware usually strikes after you’ve clicked on a link in a fake email, or they’ve sent you a phony pop-up claiming to be from Microsoft or your bank. It can even compromise your browser’s own security. Ransomware is a big problem because it means you have to take action to solve it. If you don’t pay up, your files are gone for good.

Everything else

Phishing emails and websites that attempt to get your credit card information are also quite common, but they’re often delivered by legitimate companies. Always pay with a credit card over a PayPal account, rather than a debit card, for example, to be extra sure of where you’re making your purchase.

Your computer may also be infected with unwanted software. Both Windows and Macs have included these types of programs for years, but they’re still a threat. Usually, the programs come disguised as standard applications or updates to your software, but they often try to install malicious software on your computer. On Windows, to remove it, right-click the program and select “Remove,” or open the Start menu and click “Run” and select “App info.” On the Mac, you can also delete unwanted programs by opening the menu and selecting “All.”

Lastly, there’s malware on your computer called keyloggers. They are common and inexpensive, and often sneak themselves onto your computer by piggybacking on legitimate programs, like an email client. Once they’re installed, they steal all of the information you type into the programs. Be careful with this one!

Whichever route you decide to take, it’s worth trying a few of the common-sense tactics below to at least safeguard against viruses and ransomware — just in case!

Repeat after us: Don’t open email attachments!

Always be suspicious of emails from people you don’t know. Most malware is delivered through email attachments, so unless you know exactly who you’re dealing with, you should avoid opening them.

Don’t click on random links in unsolicited emails

If you get a spam email, simply delete it. If you see a link to a video that looks completely legitimate, don’t click on it. Save it to your computer for reference if you decide to watch it, but just don’t click through.

Don’t use the same passwords for everything!