Comparison of Computer Viruses and Spyware:

Many people use the terms "computer virus" and "spyware" interchangeably; doing so is incorrect, though, since the terms refer to two very distinct things. How do you know whether your PC is infected with a run-of-the-mill computer virus, or instead spyware? The unique ways in which they work provide some telling clues. By educating yourself about the characteristics of spyware and computer viruses, you'll be able to take care of them more quickly and easily.

What is a Computer Virus?

One of the most important things to keep in mind about a computer virus is that it is inherently designed to wreak havoc on your computer. When a computer is infected with a computer virus, it often acts slow and sluggish; the much-dreaded "blue screen of death" can also pop up at random times when a PC is infected with a computer virus. Computer viruses attach themselves to both executable and program files; when you run such a program, the virus is unleashed. Viruses spread rapidly by replicating themselves again and again, which is why you often hear about large numbers of people all having the same computer virus.

What is Spyware?

Unlike a computer virus, spyware isn't necessarily designed to mess up your computer. In fact, it's in the spyware creator's best interests to keep it from doing so. Why? Because spyware's real motive is to collect information about you and your browsing habits. Key loggers, which record every key that you press, are often incorporated into spyware. After information is collected, the spyware creator can use it to do a number of shady things. At best, he can change around your desktop or add annoying toolbars to your browser; at worst, he can abscond with your credit card info and charge up a storm.

Which is Worse: A Computer Virus or Spyware?

More than likely, your main concern when it comes to spyware and computer viruses is how much harm they can inflict. The two programs are so different, though, that comparing them is futile. They both inflict damage, but in entirely different ways. A computer virus can render your computer completely unusable and make all of your saved data vanish into thin air; spyware can pass your sensitive financial data into the hands of someone who has decidedly ulterior motives. In one case, you have a ruined computer; in the other, you have a drained bank account. Either way, you lose. Protect yourself against computer viruses and spyware by investing in top antivirus software that identifies and prevents both of these types of malware.

Article last updated May 27, 2011.

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