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Is antivirus the same as antispyware?

Is antivirus the same as antispyware?

No. While antivirus and antispyware applications operate in similar ways, they are different. Each has a different target in its sights. I that it sounds simple, antivirus software detects viruses and antispyware detects spyware, but it's a bit more involved than that.

First, let's look at the difference between computer viruses and spyware. Two main differences exist: their purpose and the way the spread.


Viruses are malicious sets of code designed to carry out specific missions such as damage your computer, files, or network or disrupt the Internet. Viruses come in many forms with various destructive purposes.

Spyware is a malicious program that can serve several evil purposes including recording your keystrokes and sending them to a third party where they are analyzed for passwords and financial information, monitoring your Internet usage and serving up targeted pop-up advertisements, or open up a "backdoor" for hackers to invade your system. There are dozens of broad categories of spyware including keyloggers, chat loggers, browser hijackers, Web bugs, downloaders, dialers, browser helper objects, data miners, Remote Administration Tools (RATs), and adware.

Transmission Methods

In addition to having different purposes, viruses and spyware have different ways that they arrive. Computer viruses spread through file sharing. This includes sharing files on floppy discs and CD-ROMs, over the network, and through e-mail attachments.

Spyware usually arrives as a hitchhiker bundled with other programs. For example, you might inadvertently download spyware when you download a free screensaver or game off of the Internet. Drive-by downloads are also becoming a common method of transmission. Simply by visiting a malicious website, you may be also downloading spyware!

The Effects of Viruses and Spyware

Both computer viruses can wreak havoc on your computer. Viruses can destroy files and even wipe your hard drive clean. Spyware can be either annoying or downright malicious. Popup ads are irritating while the theft of your financial data hits you where it hurts: your pocketbook. In addition, these malicious programs can make changes to your computer's registry, Internet settings, and slow your system to a crawl. Computer errors are common.

Because viruses and spyware are different, detection methods are different. Antivirus software won't detect spyware and antispyware software won't detect viruses because they use different algorithms and definition databases. 

This doesn't mean that you can't get a program that does both. In fact, most of the major computer security software manufactures now feature "all in one" products that detect computer viruses, spyware, and other types of Internet threats. If you want complete protection against both computer viruses and spyware, you can't go wrong by choosing one of the leading Internet security suites. You can also buy separate antivirus and antispyware tools.

Either way, in order to protect your PC from the most current threats, it's critical to keep your security software updated with the latest virus and spyware definitions. Most of the popular applications provide you with automatic updates though you may have to go into the software and enable automatic updates. Double check your antivirus and antispyware applications to be sure.

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