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What is the Difference between Malware, Adware, and Spyware

What is the Difference between Malware, Adware, and Spyware

Computer infiltration by virtual parasites is as big and feared a threat today as swine flu. Malware, adware, spyware, and other viruses can do a lot of harm to your computers, which can be very expensive to sort out. This article will tell you the difference between malware, adware, and spyware.
Sayali Bedekar Patil
Trend Micro's 'Computer World Article', dated 16th January 2004, estimated that computer viruses cost world businesses around USD 55 billion in 2003. You need a good detection and removal software package to keep your laptop from getting affected. Some problem areas are malware, adware, spyware, and computer viruses. You need to know the difference between these three to understand how far your laptop is harmed.


According to F-secure, the year 2007 has seen more production of malware that the previous 20 years put together. It is a linguistic blend of the two words, 'malicious' and 'software'. These software are designed with the intent to harm a computer system through a sneaky infiltration. They are hostile, annoying computer codes that intrude in the working of a computer system, without the owner's consent. They are considered a computer contaminant legally, in several US states. They enter a computer system through the pathways of the World Wide Web.

Initially, they were just pranks, but were later on backed by hostile intent and led to vandalism. They harm the computer, and this results in loss of data. They are capable of destroying the files stored in the computer hard disk. Some even take over the computer's control and make the user's computer a host for contraband data, and engage in automatic sending of spam mails, etc. They are also dangerous when the creator installs a key logger in its programming code. This registers the user's keystrokes when he enters passwords, personal and professional information, banking details, etc. This can lead to Internet scams, frauds, and thefts.

They are also referred to as malicious codes that include viruses, worms, trojan horses, etc. Virus and worms are two best known types of this malicious software. They differ in their speed of infestation - viruses spread with the execution of infected software, while worms actively multiply and transmit themselves over the network. Kraken Botnet, the Storm Worm, April Fool's Day, and Zotob are some well-known types.


They are software that display unsolicited advertisements, which pop-up at occasional intervals and unnecessarily pester the user. Some are also types of spyware, especially when they decipher the user's web surfing history and display relevant advertisements only. They also exhibit other typical behavioral traits, like reporting on a user's website visits, etc. This collected data is often used for advertising impressions selected to be targeted at the user.

Though the goal of the creators of these software is not to damage, they can be extremely persistent in their pop ups, and the computer user is likely to get irritated with them. Many companies generate revenues from their ads, by noting the history of sites visited by users, and then throwing at them, specific ads that pertain to their area of interest. The best way to deal with it is not to click on the pop-up ads, delete strange email attachments, and install appropriate removal/blocking software on your computers. Bonzi Buddy, Gator, Kazaa, and Zango are some famous names of this software.


In simple words, it generally applies to privacy invading software. It is a strictly 'for-profit malware', that is encoded to track users' web browsing habits and display unsolicited advertisements, with the intention of redirecting users to other websites. They directly help in the generation of marketing revenues for the creator. They do not spread like viruses, and are in fact, installed on users' computers by exploiting security loopholes and OS (operating system) design defects. They even come in packages with other user-friendly software, and get automatically activated on the user's computer when the software is installed. They are also often dropped as a payload by worms.

They are sneakily installed on computer systems to collect user and computer information without the user's knowledge and consent. Some of them can interfere with the user's control on his computer by installing new software on its own, and by redirecting the web browser activity. They are capable of redirecting search engine results pages, to paid advertisements. They can bring a change in the computer settings, and result in slow Internet connection speed, loss of Internet functionality, and changes in home page settings as well. Unlike viruses and worms, they do not self-replicate, but just like them, they exploit infected computers for commercial gain.

The problem with this software is that they are often downloaded onto their system by clueless users, as distributors often present them as useful and harmless utilities. Unfortunately, with its own threats, spyware also open up the computer to other attacks; as they create entrance holes in the system. They are thus, rarely the lone infections on a computer; and when they are noticed, it is best to go for a complete system clean up. Their dangers include unwanted and erratic computer behavior, unwanted CPU activity, additional usage of memory, and an unnecessary increase in network traffic, along with problems like application freezing, booting failures, system-wide crashes, etc.

Phishing is similar to spyware, and is considered as an Internet crime. It uses social engineering to make users volunteer their personal information while filling of forms. Its famous examples are CoolWebSearch, Internet Optimizer (DyFuCa), and Movieland ( or

All Three - Compare and Contrast

Adware are the best way to offer applications for free or at a low-cost. Spyware produces more targeted advertisements. Malware sends out automatic email spam, and redirect users to unintended sites. The previous two progress to malicious software if they start to affect computer activity actively, instead of just showing passive advertisements to the user. It is basically the intent that separates the three - spyware are for privacy invasion, adware are for revenue generation through pop up advertisements, and malware cause harm to a user's computer system, borne out of pranks or personal and professional vendetta.

All three are harmful to your computer systems. While some are mere nuisances, others are active parasites that can seriously damage your computer. It is best to get virus removal programs installed on your system as soon as possible. It is one of the effective ways to get rid of them.