Virus or Spyware..?

Virus or Spyware How Do You Tell The Difference..?


Many of you maybe confused about the different kinds of computer Virus or Spyware & How Do You Tell The Difference . So lets spend a little time trying to understand exactly what it is we are trying to protect our computers from !


All computer nasties whether it be a VIRUS, WORM, TROJAN, SPYWARE or ADWARE , all come under the same heading of malware, or put another way Malicious Ware! The categorization of each of these little horrors is more often than not based upon the perceived intent of the code writer.



Ok lets look at what constitutes a virus. A virus is designed to cause damage to as many computer systems as possible, whether the damage is just limited to deletion of files & data, or the more serious types can also cause physical damage to your hard drive & ultimately prevent your PC from booting.



Although similar to a virus in as much as it seeks to multiply & propagate itself around the internet / network, it is not usually classed as being so destructive in it’s intent. Worms are usually more of a nuisance factor simply because they will if unchecked, propagate out of control & eventually bring your computer & or your network, crashing to it’s knees. They often seek to spread via email and if for no other reason than this, it is always better to use a web based email service as opposed to Outlook Express.


Now this is where the classification blurs slightly between different security products, you will find that all antivirus software will pick up Trojan infections & some will deal with such an infection far more effectively than others. But at the same time a good quality anti-spyware package will also pick up Trojan infections, some dealing with it more effectively than others. So why do we have this grey area in the classification? Well it’s got a lot to do with the perceived intent of the code writer as mentioned earlier. You see in the vast majority of cases the Trojan is designed to stay hidden, it’s purpose is not to destroy data, but to steal it ! Yet at the same time it is designed to spread & propagate itself to as many computers as is possible.

Therefore we have a merging of  two different intents;

1. To lay quietly and unseen whilst stealing data from your computer (typical spyware)

2. To spread & propagate itself around the network or internet by whatever means are available to it! (typical worm)


Spyware is exactly what the name implies, it’s purpose is not to destroy data or hard drive, but simply to spy & then send it’s collected data to some receiving computer anywhere in the world. It is not designed primarily to look for methods to propagate and as such this is a major difference between spyware & trojans. Spyware is very often more parasitic in nature and whilst it gathers it’s sensitive data from your PC & sends it to it’s destination, you will often notice a steep decline in performance of your PC. Spyware is also often the cause of browser hijacks & screen pop ups, in fact one sure sign of a spyware infection is to open Windows Task Manager  by pressing ctrl + alt keys
together & while holding them down, press delete. This will open your Task Manager window, now click on the tab performance and you will see a green graph. Watch the graph as it progresses along and if your PC is clean you should see peaks somewhere between 0 & 6 depending on the amount of software you have running in the background. If however you have an infection, these peaks will often flat line at 85% – 100% as the parasitic spyware saps your system resources.


Finally the least problematic of all malware, adware is as the name implies, more concerned about what you look at on the internet, advertisers will often email you about certain products that you have viewed on the internet, the idea being that you must be interested or why was you looking at that advert in the first place? All antispyware packages will clean out this adware at the same time as dealing with the more dangerous spyware, but as is always the case, some do a much better job than others !

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Posted by on Nov 7 2011. Filed under Comp Security. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Virus or Spyware..?”

  1. Well what can I say,

    you have just answered why my pc keeps getting infected even though I have a upto date virus scanner.

    It is always trojans so I assume that it is spyware, yes…?

    have bookmarked this site and will be visiting again

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