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Differences Between Computer Viruses and Worms

Differences Between Computer Viruses and Worms

Differences Between Computer Viruses and Worms

If you're like many average computer users, chances are you've heard about several different kinds of threats that might impact your device -- but you probably don't know exactly what they actually refer to. There are several such terms out there, from simple viruses to things like worms, ransomware, trojan horses and more.

At PC Laptops, our laptop and PC repair services cover numerous areas, from hardware damage or related risks to virus scans, diagnostic checks and many others that evaluate your machine for things like viruses and other forms of software threats. Two of the most common such issues that many computer owners know about broadly, but may not know many details on: Viruses and worms. What are each of these types, what's the broad category they fall under, and how do each spread and infect computers? Here's everything you need to know about these two so you can tell them apart and recognize potential signs or risks of either one.


First and foremost, let's discuss the umbrella term that covers viruses, worms and several other forms of malicious software: Malware. Malware can describe any software that is harmful to a computer system, including viruses, worms, ransomware and trojan horses. Malware can be installed through a number of methods, such as infected files or websites, spam emails or attachments, or even direct ActionScript code injection in legitimate websites.

Once installed on your device, malware can have a variety of negative effects. It can steal your personal information, including passwords and credit card numbers, and send it to criminals. It can also delete files or render your computer inoperable. Additionally, malware often includes code that turns your computer into a "bot" for use in large-scale cybercriminal activities, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

However, knowing more about specific types of malware can be very beneficial. Here are some basics on viruses and worms.

Computer Worm

When it comes to malicious software, one of the more harmful formats is the computer worm. This refers to a form that self-replicates itself repeatedly, infecting networks based on their vulnerabilities while also spreading to other systems. Worms are typically standalone threats that don't require a host program like a virus does, and they can be very difficult to detect and remove.

One of the key threats of worms is the fact that they do not require any user interaction with them to spread. They exploit various security holes in systems in order to propagate, and they can move very quickly once they're loose. As such, it's important to keep your software up-to-date with the latest security patches and to be wary of strange or unexpected emails, downloads or websites.

Computer Virus

A computer virus is a type of malware that requires human interaction in order to spread. This can be in the form of opening an infected file, clicking on a link in an email, or installing and running an infected program. Once activated, a virus can do any number of things, such as deleting files, corrupting data, or even crashing your computer.

Like worms, viruses often use security holes in systems to propagate, but they typically do so more slowly. They also require a host program in order to spread, which is why viruses are not as rampant as worms. However, they can still be very damaging and costly if left unchecked.

Example of a Computer Worm

One of the older but still well-known instances of a computer worm causing major issues is known by those in the industry simply as Code Red. Nicknamed that way based on Code Red Mountain Dew, this refers to an incident all the way back in 2021 where Code Red infiltrated Microsoft IIS web servers using a computer worm, which eventually even attacked the White House's website.

This hack alone caused over $2 billion in damage and affected roughly 25% of servers. While most computer worm issues don't grow into concerns anywhere near this large, this is an example of the kind of havoc these threats can cause if left unchecked.

Example of a Computer Virus

One of the most famous computer viruses is the ILOVEYOU virus, also known as Love Bug. This virus was first detected in May of 2000 and quickly spread across the globe before being eradicated. It caused an estimated $10 billion in damage, making it one of the most costly viruses to ever hit the world.

This virus was notable for its simple but clever method of propagation. It would send an infected email with the subject "ILOVEYOU" to everyone in the victim's address book, and then automatically run when the email was opened. As such, it managed to infect millions of computers in a very short period of time.

Preventing Viruses and Worms

Luckily, preventing these kinds of malware threats is typically fairly simple. Some basic areas to maintain:

  • Antivirus and anti-malware software: Make sure you have a good antivirus software installed and up-to-date. In addition, especially if your computer has been threatened by other forms of malware, you may want to consider investing in anti-malware software as well.
  • Operating system updates: Keep your operating system up-to-date with the latest security patches. Many of these patches are released specifically to address newly discovered security vulnerabilities that worms and viruses can exploit.
  • Firewalls: Make sure your computer has a firewall enabled and that it is properly configured. Firewalls can help to prevent malicious programs from being able to access and exploit your computer's systems.
  • Email and internet hygiene: Be very careful about what emails you open, where you click, and what files you download. Many viruses and worms are spread through email attachments or embedded links. Be especially wary of unsolicited emails, as these are often the most likely to be infected. Also look out for suspicious links and other signs that a website may not be safe to visit.

By following these basic guidelines, you can help reduce your risk of being infected by a virus or worm.

And if you're concerned your computer has been infected, or just want to get it scanned to be sure there are no issues, bring it to the pros at PC Laptops at your nearest convenience.