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Malware vs. Ransomware vs. Viruses: What you need to know

8th February 2021 Print

One of the most valuable things that you own is the information stored on your computer, and cybercriminals want it. In the last decade, cybercriminals are increasingly using more diverse means to access your private information. Whether it’s for bragging rights, monetary gain, or to make a political statement, cybercriminals have a wide range of ways to get around your computer’s defenses. In order to help you protect your personal computer and network, we’re breaking down 3 major threats, what sets them apart, and what you can do to protect your computer from online threats right away.


Malware is a catch-all term for any program that’s designed to damage or gain unauthorized access to your computer. Malware can infect your computer in any number of ways: this can include tricking you into opening a cleverly disguised email, redirecting you to an infected website, or making you download what you thought was a legitimate piece of software. 

Malware can cause a number of issues on your computer, which ranges from annoying to dangerous. It can slow your computer down to a crawl, lock you out of your system, or just crash your computer entirely. 


Ransomware falls under the term “malware,” and is one of the more sinister programs that can infect your computer. Ransomware is usually accidentally downloaded by the user through email, online ads, or other security vulnerabilities. Once downloaded, ransomware will lock you out of certain files on your computer. The cybercriminal will then promise to return access to the files to you — for a price. This can be particularly burdensome if you run an online business and have sensitive client data.

The FBI recommends that you never, ever pay the ransom for a number of reasons. The most worrying is that there is absolutely no guarantee they will, or even can, give you your files back. 


Another subset of malware, viruses are spread in much of the same manner as other malicious computer programs. What makes viruses different is that they’re designed specifically to spread quickly between different devices. Once downloaded, they usually insert themselves into as many programs and files on your computer as possible, meaning that when you share something, say an infected PDF or video file, the virus spreads. 

Most viruses don’t execute right away upon infecting your device either. They contain what is called a logic bomb, which is a type of code that causes the virus to only activate under certain conditions. In this way, even a careful user may unknowingly spread the virus to multiple devices. 

How Do You Protect Yourself?

The simplest solution is to make sure that you have antivirus software on your computer. Antivirus programs protect you in several ways. The most basic method is through signature-based scanning, where the program will scan a virus’s signature, and compare it to the signatures of known viruses in their database. 

While this is certainly better than nothing, it is highly recommended that you get more than just basic antivirus software. There are a couple of issues with basic protection: they don’t prevent infection, and their usefulness depends on how up-to-date their virus signature database is. 

More sophisticated programs will monitor software behavior, isolating any that are acting erratically in order to safely test and analyze them. This means even newer types of malware are more easily caught before they do damage to your computer. They generally charge a small fee but are well worth the price. 

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