Antivirus versus Anti Malware: Which One Should You Choose?
Protecting your computer from malicious attacks is an important part of keeping it safe and secure. But with the vast array of antivirus and anti-malware programs available, it can be difficult to determine which one is best for your needs.
A successful malware attack has great impact on both users and organizations, causing data loss, financial issues, or disrupting operations. The best way to combat these online threats is to keep your system safe using an antivirus program, anti-malware software or both of them.
Virus vs Malware
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. That being said, before we jump into the waves of antivirus and antimalware, let’s see what the difference between virus and malware is:
Malware is a general term used to describe software that is harmful to your device. Malware can include viruses, spyware, adware, and trojans. Spyware collects information about you without your knowledge or consent. Adware displays unwanted advertising on your computer. Trojans are malicious programs that masquerade as legitimate programs in order to trick you into installing them.
Viruses are a type of malware that can replicate itself and spread from one computer to another. A virus might attach itself to a program or file so that it is executed when the program is run, or the file is opened. Some viruses can cause harm to endpoints, such as deleting files, corrupting data, or displaying unwanted advertising.
This being said, the conclusion is that: a virus is a malware, but a malware is not always a virus.
Antivirus (AV): What It Is and How It Works
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 anti-malware 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 endpoints.
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 It Is and How It Works
Anti-malware abilities can cover 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.
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.
- 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.
- Provide online banking security.
- 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. Features are bundled differently, with more or less focus on proactive security, depending on what the products aim to offer.
Cyber-criminals are constantly working on developing malicious software on 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 threats that don’t act like regular viruses and might not be detected by the antivirus program.
Why to Use Both Antivirus and Anti-malware
Anti-malware (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, viruses, trojans, keyloggers), while anti-malware can detect and remove new and sophisticated malware strains and strengthen security.
Some anti-malware 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 the antivirus is useless, but it can’t fight against advanced forms of malware like an anti-malware does. For better protection, you’ll need to use both of them.
Potential Conflicts Between Antivirus and Antimalware
An anti-malware 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 anti-malware is 100% compatible with the antivirus software, so should work just fine, without any conflicts.
Users can’t depend solely by one security solution, as antivirus programs can’t always keep up with new 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.
Pros and Cons
There are a few key differences between antivirus and anti-malware protection, and it’s important to understand these before deciding which type of protection is right for your endpoint.
- Antivirus software is designed to detect and remove viruses, which are one of the most common types of malware.
- Viruses can cause serious damage to your computer, including data loss and system crashes, so it’s important to have antivirus protection in place to prevent them from infecting your system.
- Antivirus programs usually include additional features such as email protection and web filtering, which can further protect computers from malware.
- Antivirus software can sometimes flag legitimate files as malicious, which can lead to false positives.
- Antivirus programs can also slow down machines due to the extra processing power required to scan for viruses.
- It focuses on proactive protection against online threats.
- Filters these threats before they get to reach your system, but also during and after cyberattacks.
- Protects users from financial and data-stealing malware.
- 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 the antivirus does.
What Antivirus Software Should I choose?
Key indicators of well-rounded antivirus software include:
- Real-time scanning: background scanning means the program will detect threats as you encounter them.
- Automatic updates: updates target any new forms of malware since installation.
- Remove threats: your software should remove malware, not just detect and block it.
Whether you need a free or paid version of antivirus program, take your time and analyze your options.
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. Expert reviews should also help in finding out which antivirus program you should use.
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 Anti-malware Software Should I Choose?
The threat landscape is constantly evolving, and people need to find the best software programs to help them secure their devices.
Whether you find a separate anti-malware software or purchase antivirus with added capabilities, look for a program with the following:
- Sandboxing: this controlled environment allows the software to test suspected threats and determine whether or not they’re safe to use.
- Traffic filtering: this type of filtering protects your device by blocking access to suspicious servers and sites involved with malware distribution.
- Proactive security: your software should scan, detect, and remove known malware threats.
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 individuals 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 anti-malware program means an investment in more powerful technology aimed at destroying and preventing from advanced malware threats that classic antivirus programs can’t.
Does it Have the Right Price?
Pricing is an important factor to consider when you decide to purchase a security product – whether it’s anti-malware or antivirus. In many cases, users can’t tell which is the right one, because they don’t have specific technical skills, nor 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.
Nowadays, most cyberattacks are more automated and increasingly sophisticated, which makes them harder to be stopped, unless there are specific algorithms designed for such attacks. That way, 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, as you can get the infection without noticing it. Malware has different behavior these days, as cybercriminals developing such attacks try to be silent and stay as hidden as possible.
Top 5 FAQs about Antivirus and Anti-malware
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 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 anti-malware 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 anti-malware 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 to each product’s setup and specifications.
4. Does anti-malware replace antivirus?
Theoretically, no, anti-malware doesn’t replace antivirus, but it depends on the variety of features provided by software companies.
5. Am I 100% protected using both antivirus and anti-malware software program?
There is no guarantee that using both antivirus and anti-malware 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.
How Can Heimdal® Help?
Heimdal`s Endpoint Detection and Response offers a complex cybersecurity technology designed to protect endpoints and continuously monitor them for anomalies, as well as to respond to mitigate cybersecurity threats.
When threats arise, Heimdal’s EDR provides greater visibility into corporate endpoints. Also allows for faster response times, stopping an attack at its beginning.
Some of our most crucial modules are included in our EDR service: Threat Prevention, Patch and Asset Management, Next-Gen Antivirus, Ransomware Encryption Protection, Privileged Access Management, and Application Control. They ensure features such as: automated detection and remediation, machine learning, threat intelligence, application control, patch and vulnerability management, privileged access management, intelligent alerting, and reporting.
- Next-gen Antivirus & Firewall which stops known threats;
- DNS traffic filter which stops unknown threats;
- Automatic patches for your software and apps with no interruptions;
- Privileged Access Management and Application Control, all in one unified dashboard
Although malware attacks continue to grow and put users’ online privacy at risk, antivirus programs remain an important tool to help to keep the cybercriminals out of your devices. They can offer security protection, but at a limited level, without offering maximum protection against advanced malware attacks. Anti-malware gives your antivirus a boost and enhance protection for your devices.
While both types of programs are designed to protect your computer from malicious threats, each has its own strengths and weaknesses that you should consider when making this important choice. Before settling on either an antivirus or anti-malware program, take some time to do research and decide which type of protection will best suit your needs.
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 anti-malware programs complement each other, but they don’t necessarily compete.
It goes without saying that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
This post was originally written by Ioana Rijnetu and updated by Mihaela Marian, on February 15 2023.