Malware vs Ransomware — Comparison and Removal Guide for 2024

Cyber security remains a growing concern that causes damage spanning billions of dollars. In this article, we’ll discuss two of the most renowned threats — malware and ransomware. We’ll discuss what they are, their key differences, and everything in between, including a quick guide of easy measures you can take today to avoid being a victim of these cyberattacks.

Malware Vs Ransomware — The Key Differences

Here’s a quick table highlighting how malware and ransomware compare:

Threat Main Aim Notable Effects Ease of Removal
Malware Disrupt system and network functioning Slow system, crashes, data missing, and identity theft It can be removed with an antivirus
Ransomware To encrypt sensitive system files in return for a ransom Users are locked out of their system or unable to access files More difficult to remove. An antivirus with decryptors is needed

What is Malware?

Malware

Malware is a broad term for all kinds of malicious software your system can be exposed to. There are various different types, with the common goal of disrupting networks and systems. They can steal private data, slow down and control your system, and disrupt the overall functioning of your networks.

Here are some of the main types of malware: 

  • Spyware — This aims to steal your personal data, such as banking passwords, social security numbers, and so on.
  • Adware — Displays an unusual amount of ads in the form of pop-ups or banners.
  • Ransomware — It encrypts personal files and sensitive data on your system, demanding a ransom to recover them.
  • Virus — Malicious code that hampers your system operations. It can lead to abrupt system crashes and slow it down considerably.
  • Worms — Self-replicating malware that spreads without user action, capable of infecting millions of systems within hours.
  • Trojan — These are usually disguised in the form of an innocent file containing a malicious payload.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware where the main goal is to encrypt users’ data to demand ransom to decrypt the files. Businesses that store huge amounts of data on their systems are common targets, as having this data stolen and inaccessible forces them to pay.

Ransomware can be divided into two categories:

  • Crypto lockers — This encrypts specific files on the system or network while other programs and files remain accessible.
  • Screen lockers — This locks you out of your system, where you’re stuck on a locked screen displaying the ransom demand and a timer to act before further damage is done.

Should You Pay Ransom?

Paying ransom is never a good idea. Here’s why. This isn’t a legal quid-pro-quo relationship, and there’s no guarantee that the hackers will provide the decryption key after payment.

Many cybersecurity experts highlight the importance of refraining from paying ransom to cyber criminals as it encourages more of these attacks. As such, removing economic motivation is important.

How Do You Get Malware and Ransomware

Malware can spread in various ways. However, human negligence plays a huge role in each method.

Phishing Emails

This is one of the most common ways malware and ransomware spread. Almost 91% of all cyber-attacks are initiated through phishing emails, where you’re lured into clicking malicious links or downloading malware-laden files attached to an email.

In the past, phishing emails were easy to spot — now, modern hackers have become crafty in designing deceptive emails. Often, they resemble your organization’s template, with similar email addresses and logos.

ILOVEYOU was one of the earliest worms that spread through email attachments.

Malicious Websites

This happens when threat actors gain access to websites and infect them with malware and ransomware landmines. Once a user visits such websites, the malicious code is automatically installed.

Exploit Kits

Malicious actors exploit vulnerabilities in software or operating systems to initiate attacks. For example, WannaCry was an infamous ransomware that used a vulnerability in the Windows OS, infecting devices that hadn’t installed the security patch for EternalBlue.

Malware Vs Ransomware Removal

The best antivirus software can help you fight both malware and ransomware by removing existing threats and preventing any new threats from entering your system.

Antiviruses screen your emails and websites you visit to ensure you never fall prey to malware. Plus, they use behavioral analysis alongside signature-based and heuristic detection techniques to remove existing threats from your system.

Ransomware attacks are a bit more sophisticated than malware attacks. Once it enters your system, there isn’t much you can do. Here are some best practices that can help.

What to Do if You're Hit by Ransomware

  1. Get Off the Internet

    Disconnect the attacked system from the internet and other computers on the network.
  2. Find Out What You're Dealing With

    Determine the type of ransomware attack by looking up information on the internet (through a different device).
  3. Visit No More Ransom

    No More Ransom contains decryptors of some famous ransomware. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to restore access to your system.

Due to the severity of a ransomware attack, it’s best to take measures to prevent ransomware to avoid it in the first place. To start with, make a habit of creating backups of all your sensitive data.

You can do this on a safe cloud service or on a hard drive. This is crucial for businesses dealing with huge amounts of data, as you’ll still have access to critical data in the event of a ransomware attack.

Next, invest in a reliable antivirus. TotalAV is a leading solution we recommend. It boasts impressive real-time protection with advanced cloud scanning. To add to this, it also comes with a dedicated ransomware guard to prevent attacks.

The Importance of Protection and Prevention

With cybersecurity crimes expected to cost $265 billion annually by 2031, it’s high time users become more vigilant about online security. Here are some risks of not preventing such attacks:

  • Financial losses — If you’re hit by spyware or ransomware, you risk losing your hard-earned money. Bank account password leaks can leave you with no penny to spare.
  • Data loss — For businesses, data is crucial to survive. Without appropriate security measures in place, you can lose your sensitive data — permanently, with no hope of recovery.
  • Customer data — One example is the recent ICMR data breach that led to the leaking of personal details of 81.5 million Indians. This data is often used for mass-scale identity theft and fraud.

Here are some tips to help you steer clear of such attacks:

Install a Reliable Antivirus

The first step to a more secure system is to install a reliable antivirus solution that’ll scan and remove any malware on your devices.

Regular Software Updates

Make sure you’re regularly updating all your programs and operating systems. Providers often fix vulnerabilities in these updates, which can otherwise be exploited by threat actors.

Using Strong Passwords

Make sure you secure all your online accounts with strong passwords, and never use the same or similar passwords for all your accounts. It’s best to get a dedicated password manager that’ll generate random passwords and store them safely for you.

Multi-Factor Authentication

With hackers becoming more advanced, even strong passwords are insufficient for sensitive accounts. That’s why multi-factor authentication is key.

Besides the password, you’d need to enter a one-time code to access your account. So, even if your password is compromised, threat actors can’t get into your account without the temporary code.

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Now that you know everything about ransomware vs malware, here are some detailed Techopedia guides that can help you bolster your security with the help of value-for-money tools:

Conclusion

To sum up, malware is an umbrella term to define all kinds of threats, such as spyware, adware, trojans, worms, and so on. Ransomware, on the other hand, is a type of malware that locks you out of your files or devices in exchange for money.

Practices like regular software updates, installing an antivirus, and avoiding suspicious emails and websites can go a long way in preventing attacks. And while malware can be handled even after it occurs, ransomware is more dangerous. Prevention is the best cure.

FAQs

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Krishi Chowdhary

Krishi Chowdhary has half a decade of experience writing buying guides and product reviews for numerous leading technology websites. He spent two years writing for Business2Community.com before joining Techopedia.com. He has a degree in Commerce and extensive experience in the technology industry. He's also the key driver behind TechReport.com's news content, delivering expertise insight into the latest tech and cybersecurity news daily.