Antivirus versus Anti Malware: Which One Should I Choose?
Why antivirus and antimalware can help users fight against cyber attacks
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 They use new tactics, such as auto updating links in malicious emails, or new extensions to exploit flaws in outdated PCs.
Recent studies show that cyber attacks have been on the rise over the last years, and will continue to increase.
Source: McAfee Labs Threats Report
Findings from another report released this year indicated that the number of ransomware attacks almost doubled in the first half of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016, and most likely we’ll see these cyber attacks widely spread in different countries.
Source: Check Point Mid-Year Report
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, antimalware software or both of them.
When it comes to choosing security software, many people are usually confused about the two terms – “antivirus” and “antimalware” – failing to understand what the difference between them is.
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.
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. For example, here’s how ransomware protection feature works for AVG antivirus program.
- 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.
Here’s what experts have to say about this topic:
“You’re still going to need [antivirus software] for legacy types of threats, but zero-day is really the big problem. “The thing that’s really coming about is whitelisting and blacklisting on the endpoint which is something that [will be] really helpful in today’s world.” said Scott Crowder, VP and CIO at BMC Software Inc.
“Antivirus software only catches 45% of malware attacks and is “dead”, according to a senior manager at Symantec.
Former Firefox developer Robert O’Callahan said on his blog about antivirus: “there is negligible evidence that major non-MS AV products give a net improvement in security.
Users can’t depend solely by one security solution, as antivirus programs can’t always keep up with Internet and new malware threats. In fact, no security solution can. That is why, with the help of the anti malware solution, you can add extra protection to better fight against newer and advanced malware.
What antivirus program should I choose?
Deciding about your next antivirus program isn’t always the easiest choice, knowing that there are so many things to consider. Whether you need a free or paid version of antivirus program, take your time and analyze your options.
First off, we recommend you weigh the pros and cons for and list your specific needs.
- Easy to install and compatible with many operating systems
- Scans your files found and decreases the chance of your device getting infected with viruses, trojans, keyloggers or other online threats
- Many AV programs provide a free version
- Antivirus offers protection against spam and phishing methods
- Periodic and automatic virus definition updates
- Antivirus protection suite finds it difficult to detect new and advanced threats fast and promptly
- Constantly monitors and checks for updates, which can slow down your system (not like they used to, but you there’s still a perceivable impact)
- Special and multiple scans might take a long time
To easily decide between a free or paid antivirus software program, you can use specific tests, because it will provide in-depth information that can influence your buying decision. Tools to test AV are: AV-Test, AV-Comparatives, or Virus Bulletin.
Expert reviews should also help finding out which antivirus program you should use.
For example, PC Magazine is an online magazine that answers any and all questions related to computers and software that runs on them, including antivirus.
They tested more than 40 paid antivirus products to help users choose the right one. Here’s a list with some of the most important antivirus programs to choose from, in terms of pricing, rating and features.
Our recommendation is to purchase a reliable antivirus program, not use free versions, which are not enough to provide robust protection for your devices. Read our guide on how you can better decide which antivirus program suits most to your needs.
What antimalware program should I choose?
The threat landscape is constantly evolving and people need to find the best software programs to help them secure their devices. According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report, there’s an alarming increase of targeted attacks and cyber criminals try to find new ways to steal sensitive data from users.
Attackers have been increasingly using zero-day vulnerabilities and sophisticated malware to get access to users’ personal data and encrypt them. And they won’t stop anytime soon.
Probably the most tech-savvy persons know that antivirus is used to keep computers safe from online threats, but it’s just not enough. Antivirus can’t cope with the new wave of malware, and you need a layered approach to be more secure.
This is why, choosing an antimalware program means an investment in more powerful technology aimed at destroying and preventing from advanced malware threats that classic antivirus programs can’t.
To make things easier with your decision on which antimalware solution to buy, let’s have a look at what they have to offer, with pros and cons.
- It focuses on proactive protection against online threats
- Filters these threats before they get to reach your system, but also during and after cyber attacks
- Protects users from financial and data stealing malware, keeping your banking accounts safe
- Provides multi layers of protection that users don’t get from a classic antivirus
- Offers real-time protection against the most dangerous forms of malware
- The customized scan might slow the computer’s speed
- Real-time protection could be available for premium versions only
- Doesn’t (necessarily) protect against common viruses like an antivirus.
Cyber-criminals are constantly working on developing malicious software at a large scale. You can prevent infections by using a good and updated anti-malware solution.
Anti malware programs can easily detect advanced forms of malware and provide specific protection from ransomware attacks. For example, they can spot, block and remove adware and spyware malware threats that don’t act like regular viruses, and might not be detected by antivirus program.
We need an antimalware solution to prevent and protect our PCs from all types of threats. There are quite a few options out there to choose from. For example, Malwarebytes is a complementary, yet essential program to consider using. It offers protection against today’s most dangerous threats, and can detect and removes zero-day malware. You can also have a look at our product, Heimdal PRO, which is an antimalware solution, aimed at protecting your computer from second generation malware.
If you are looking for a security package focused on cleaning malware from your PC, here is a list of some free malware removal tools to check out.
Does it have the right price?
Pricing is an important factor to consider when you decide purchasing a security product – whether it’s antimalware or antivirus. In many cases, users can’t tell which is the right one, because they don’t have specific technical skills, neither do they know pricing criteria.
To better know if a security program is worth the price, users should estimate the real costs of a potential attack striking their devices by considering all case scenarios. For example, users who are being infected by ransomware attacks don’t recover their files. Sadly, 1 out of every 4 paying users don’t receive their decryption key, so they lose both money and data.
Nowadays, most cyber attacks are more automated and increasingly sophisticated, which make them harder to be stopped., unless there are specific algorithms designed for such attacks. That why, they can’t be avoided, even if you are using all the security measures needed.
“My device didn’t get infected” is not an excuse to use, because you can get the infection without noticing it. Malware has a different behaviour these days, as cyber criminals developing such attacks try to be silent and stay as hidden as possible.
5 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions about antivirus and anti-malware programs
1. Why do I need an antivirus program?
You need an antivirus program to scan your system and secure it from cyber threats. Since you can’t do that manually, you need a minimum layer of protection, and antivirus can provide you with that and detect suspicious websites and files containing malicious programs.
2. I have an antivirus software, why do I need an anti-malware program too?
Antivirus can’t detect every type of infection and don’t keep up with the cyber threats that are constantly evolving. You need an antimalware program to boost protection against newer types of malware. We recommend reading this article on why traditional antivirus can’t detect second generation malware.
3. Is it possible to run an antivirus and an anti-malware program at the same time?
Yes, you can, because antimalware programs are complementary to antivirus systems, and compatible with them, so they should run at the same time without any problem. If compatibility issues may arise, it should be related with each product’s setup and specifications. You can address them to the IT/support department of each producer to be solved.
4. Does antimalware replace antivirus?
Theoretically, no, antimalware doesn’t replace antivirus, but it depends on the variety of features provided by software companies. This is subject to debate, but we recommend you to compare the full pack of features and ask for support from producers to better understand what you buy.
5. Am I 100% protected using both antivirus and antimalware software program?
There is no guarantee that using both antivirus and antimalware programs on your computer, you’ll be fully protected. You need them both to stay safe and reduces the chances to get infected with malware.
This video explains the difference between viruses and malware, and what you need to know when choosing between antivirus and antimalware software programs.
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 strongly 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.
How do you keep your devices secure? Do you use an antivirus or antimalware program?