Antivirus vs. Anti Malware: Which One Should You Choose?

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People should be safe on the Internet, but reality shows us something else. Malware attacks are on the rise, and we need software programs to keep our devices secure.

Cyber criminals became more skilled, organized and persistent in their spam campaigns. They use new tactics, such as auto updating links in malicious emails, or new extensions to exploit flaws in outdated PCs.

A successful malware attack has great impact on both users and organizations, causing data loss, financial problems, or disrupting operations. The best way to combat these online threats is to keep your system safe using an antivirus program and antimalware software.

When it comes to choosing security software, many people are confused about the two terms – “antivirus” and “antimalware”

And then come the questions: What is the best option? Which one to choose?

In this guide, we focus on helping you understand the difference between antivirus and antimalware programs, showing their pros and cons, and what the best solution that suits every user’s needs is.

Antivirus (AV): What is it and how it works

Before we jump into the waves of antivirus and antimalware, let’s see what is the difference between virus and malware.

A computer virus is a piece of software capable of self-replication that can harm computers and information systems. It can spread through the Internet, via malicious downloads, infected email attachments, files or documents.

Malware, on the other hand, works as an umbrella term that refers to software that is defined by malicious intent. This type of malware can be: adware, worms, Trojans, ransomware, and viruses.

It leads to the conclusion that:

a virus is a malware, but a malware is not always a virus.

More than that, malware is a more generic term while virus is more specific.

Now that we’ve clarified these two terms, let’s try to understand what antivirus programs are and how they can work to secure your personal devices.

Antivirus software is a piece of software originally designed to offer protection against computer viruses (as its name suggests). Given the proliferation of other kinds of malware, antivirus started to provide protection from other computer threats too, such as: Trojans, keyloggers, rootkits, backdoors, phishing attacks or botnets, but limited to the classic ones.

Antivirus is often called an anti-malware program, and people tend to use both terms interchangeably, by mistakenly thinking that antivirus programs can address all types of malware, which is not the case. They cannot detect every type of infection, and can’t protect users against advanced forms of malware, like antimalware software does.

Finding the right antivirus software isn’t an easy task, but choosing the right one can make a difference and provide protection for your devices.

Here are the main features to look for in an antivirus program:

  • Virus scanning, which is done in the background, and the scanned file or program will only opens once the antivirus program has finished fully scanning the system. Most antivirus programs have a real-time scanning feature which allows to quickly detect the presence of malicious files on your PC.
  • Blocks malicious script files and prevent them from running, because they put your computer at risk of being infected with malware.
  • Heuristic analysis is a method used at many computer antivirus programs and designed to identify previously unknown computer viruses, as well as new variants of viruses.
  • Automatic updates are necessary to track and detect new threats that didn’t exist when the antivirus software was installed.
  • Malware removal is important because there are many types of malware out there that can harm your computer. However, many free AV programs might be only limited to detect and block malware, but won’t be able to remove it from an infected computer. For that, you will probably need to purchase a paid version of antivirus or a software program specialized in removing malware.
  • Database of known malware which compares each scanned file to the contents of the database.
  • Ransomware protection is an added feature included in most of the paid versions of antivirus programs and offered to premium users. Basically, it gives your trusted apps access users’ most important files and documents, while immediately blocks everything else that’s suspicious. 
  • Antivirus might also be packed with phishing protection, vulnerability scan, browser protection, system optimization.

Antimalware: What is it and how it works

The terms “antivirus” and “antimalware” are often considered to be synonyms, but it’s important to identify the differences and clarify them.

Antimalware abilities can cover a broader software solutions, such as anti-spyware, anti-phishing or anti-spam, and is more focused on advanced types of malware threats, such as zero-day malware, quietly exploited by cyber attackers and unknown by traditional antivirus products.

 The main features to look for in antimalware software:

  • Scan, detect and remove known Trojans, adware, spyware, and other advanced malware
  • Acts like a shield and offers second generation malware protection
  • Is a malware removal tool
  • Automatic software updates to easily identify new online threats
  • Traffic filtering for your Internet activity to secure your PC against cyber threats and blocking access to infected servers, PCs.    
  •  Provide online banking security for safer online banking experiences
  • Anti phishing protection  is a feature that is focused on detecting and blocking scam and phishing websites.
  • Offer security against advanced exploit kits. Here’s an useful guide for non-technical people about the Angler exploit kit, which was one of the most notorious exploit kits used in cyber attacks in the past years.
  • Protect against website involved in malware distribution
  • Provides a specialized malware database.
  • The type of features you will find in antimalware products can be very different, depending on the security vendor. Features are bundled differently, with more or less focus on proactive security, depending on what the products aim to offer.

Why antivirus and antimalware programs complement each other (And why you need both)

Antimalware (also known as malware removal tools) doesn’t try to replace users’ antivirus software, but rather complement it, so users can benefit of multiple layers of protection to combat the growing number of malware attacks.

Antivirus programs are more efficient and effective on the classic types of online threats (worms, virus, trojan, keyloggers), while anti malware can detect and remove new and sophisticated malware strains and strengthen security.

Some antimalware programs work proactively to block ransomware before it has a chance to encrypt your data, and can provide an extra layer of protection along with antivirus program. This doesn’t mean that antivirus is useless, but it can’t fight against advanced forms of malware like an antimalware does. For better protection, you’ll need to use both antivirus and antimalware programs.

Are there any conflicts between antivirus and antimalware products?

An antimalware program is not meant to replace your antivirus, but  to be a complementary and essential addition for your maximum online safety. It’s worth reminding that antimalware is 100% compatible with antivirus software, so should work just fine, without any conflicts.

Although malware attacks continue to grow and put users’ online privacy at risk, antivirus programs remain an important tool to help keeping the cyber criminals out of your PC and other devices. They can offer security protection, but at a limited level, without offering maximum protection against advanced malware attacks. Antimalware gives your antivirus a boost and enhance protection for your devices.

Often, technical terms are too difficult to be understood by non-techies, which is not fair. That’s why we tried to make things easier and more approachable with this guide.

Bottom line, we need to emphasize that none of these solutions can provide 100% protection against new waves of cyber threats. But you will need them both to keep you safe from viruses and malware, and decrease your chances of getting hacked.

Antivirus and antimalware programs complement each other, but they don’t necessarily compete.

It goes without saying that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you have any questions about how to keep your devices secure, please reach out to us.  Contact your PC Corp Account Manager or email us at servicedesk@pccorp.com.

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