The term "antivirus software" stems from the early days of computer viruses, in which programs were created to remove viruses and prevent them from spreading. However, over the years, different types of malicious software, often called malware, emerged as threats to personal and work computers worldwide. "Malware" is an umbrella term to describe several different kinds of malicious programs, including computer viruses.
Although antivirus software evolved to combat new malware, the term "antivirus" stuck, even though the term antimalware is truer to the software's capabilities. To give you an idea of the different types of malware out there, we've identified malware types that are potential threats to computer systems today.
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These malicious programs are designed to replicate themselves quickly with the intent to spread to other computers, often through a computer network. Although they may not be designed to intentionally impair computer systems, worms generally do some sort of damage or harm to the network itself by consuming bandwidth, at the very least. Most worms are designed only to spread as quickly as possible, so they may not try to change the computer systems they pass through. However, worms have been and are capable of creating backdoor security vulnerabilities, deleting files or even sending files via email. This is a common method for spam senders to spread junk email quickly, as the more computers the worms infect, the faster the spam mail spreads.
Trojan horses, or Trojans for short, are different from worms in that they are not designed to replicate themselves. Rather, Trojans are designed to trick you into downloading and executing them to cause data loss, theft and sometimes total-system harm. Just as in the ancient Greek story of the wooden horse designed to deceive the soldiers of Troy, Trojans present themselves as useful, interesting or routine programs to trick you into installing them on your computer.
This software is designed to gather information about you without your knowledge. This information can be sent to another party without your consent, and in some rather malicious cases, it can even be used to take control over a computer. Spyware is capable of collecting any type of data, including your internet history and banking information. Some forms of spyware can install additional software or change your internet or browser settings, which can be a mere annoyance or a problem that can take days to fix.
This incarnation of malware infects your computer with the intention of restricting access to your computer system, perhaps preventing you from surfing the internet or accessing the hard drive, and then demanding a payment to the malware creators. The trouble with this software is that it tries to imitate the look of genuine, trusted software to trick you into buying a solution. For example, some forms of ransomware tell you that your user license for a particular application has expired and you need to repurchase the license. Some of the trickiest ransomware creators have acquired millions of dollars from unsuspecting users.
Rootkits are stealthy types of malware that attempt to hide from typical methods of detection and allow continued privileged access to a computer. This essentially means that the rootkit attempts to gain administrator access on your computer and then hides itself so you don't know it is on your system. This type of malware is generally difficult to detect and remove because it tries to embed itself thoroughly and deeply into your computer's system.
Malware is not limited to these five examples, but this gives you a sense of how malicious and vicious malware can be. Fortunately, antivirus software is designed to combat these threats by preventing the programs from entering your system and quarantining and removing any malware that does get through. The best way to protect yourself from malware is to update your computer system when prompted and to purchase third-party antivirus software that protects your computer 24/7.