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Know Your Malware: Virus vs. Worm

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Know Your Malware: Virus vs. Worm

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What’s in a name? I work in marketing here at Facet, but when I was younger, I spent a lot of time helping answer the phones and assisting residential repair customers in the front of the store. Viruses were probably the most common reason for PC repair check-ins.

Although we use the term “virus” as a catch-all term for any bad software on your computer, a virus is just one type of software that can affect your system, part of a larger category of programs called malware (short for malicious software).

In the next few blog posts, I will do my best to provide a primer on types of malware. Up today: viruses and worms.


Given our current, ahem, situation, I suspect we’re all pretty brushed up on biological viruses. Computer viruses operate in a way that is not so different from those that affect us.

Computer viruses, much like their biological namesakes, are designed to “replicate” rapidly once they enter the host (in this case, a computer). Not every virus is devastating, but some can wreak havoc on your computer.

The most important thing to know about viruses is that they’re not designed to replicate immediately upon entering your computer: they can only run if the user opens the program or file to which they’re attached, like a file, program, or the boot sector of the hard drive. Once the file or program is opened, that’s the green light the virus needed to be set loose and it’s about to Tokyo drift all over your computer. The virus will spread to other files and locations on the computer from there. It’s also going to find other hosts—just like viral infections in humans spread to other humans.

Firstly, a disclosure: I am not old enough to remember a time before the ubiquity of the internet, and thus, my first computer viruses were things that came attached to “free” wallpaper downloads and other relics of the early aughts (and we really all owe our parents a collective apology for those).

That being said, the easiest way to understand viruses is to know that they originally spread over networked computers in businesses and the public sector, making copies of themselves and attaching them to users’ files. If someone had access to another users’ file, the other user would also be infected. Infected floppy disks played a huge role in the first viruses for personal computers, as the vast majority of people weren’t accessing the internet. Nowadays, many viruses are sent as email attachments. Most viruses are attached to .exe (executable) files, Word documents, or other common file types, invisible to the user. While some will leave the original file intact, others will completely overwrite the files with which they come in contact.


The best way to explain worms is to juxtapose them against viruses.

Like viruses, worms replicate themselves and spread through networks to other computers.

Remember how viruses have to be opened with a file or program to run? Unlike viruses, worms do not have to be attached to a file or program to run and replicate. They’re standalone programs that just do their own thing, mostly exploiting vulnerabilities in systems to spread. These programs use pre-existing helpful tools that allow files, documents, and programs to be stored and moved across computers to get around and cause trouble.

This is what makes worms particularly pervasive—they don’t require much “human assistance” to spread and replicate.

In part 2, I will discuss other types of malware including trojan horses and ransomware. Subscribe to our newsletter to get these in your mailbox, as well as comics, recipes, and tech tips from other Facet employees.

Your business’s best defense against all malware is a technology partnership that works constantly to keep you and your employees safer and more informed about the current threat landscape. True Tech Peace of Mind with Facet is knowing that your networks are secure and your data is backed up. While there is no such thing as total security against all attacks, the right proactive tools can keep you safer.

Call us today to schedule a Security Plus Audit to find out where your business’s cybersecurity stands. We can provide you a roadmap to better security to protect your data, and we will work with you to implement it. Find more information on the Security Plus Audit here. For questions or to schedule an appointment with a Network Engineer, contact us.

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