Difference between anti-spyware and anti-virus?
April 12, 2010 9:45 PM   Subscribe

What are the main differences between anti-spyware and anti-virus?

I have had some experience with computer security in the past - e.g. removing viruses, block bad ip's in the hosts file and etc., but I've always wondered, is there any difference between anti-spyware and anti-virus.

In other words, do you really need anti-spyware (e.g. Malwarebytes) if you already have a decent anti-virus program (e.g. Avira or NOD32)? Or would that just be redundant?

Thanks in advance.
posted by meta.mark to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It used to be that anti-virus software concerned itself solely with detecting and removing self-replicators of one kind or another. I'm not aware of any modern package marketed as anti-virus that still limits itself in this way.

Malwarebytes is still very useful for cleaning up an infected machine whose anti-virus has failed to protect it (which generally happens because an update subscription has lapsed, or because the user has been socially engineered into turning it off) but in 2010 I can think of no compelling reason to run it alongside any reasonably competent real-time antivirus; all this will do is make the computer less responsive.

For what it's worth, I've been installing Panda Cloud Antivirus as the sole resident anti-malware suite on customer machines for a while now, and none of those have subsequently shown any signs of re-infection.
posted by flabdablet at 10:02 PM on April 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks. That makes lots of sense. Now I wonder whether anti-spyware/"malware" programs will be phased out or if the less than tech savvy consumer will continute to purchase unnecessary software.

Also, I too, use Panda Cloud AV :) They recently got a great review over at pcmag, and personally, I've had absolutely no complaints about it :)
posted by meta.mark at 10:09 PM on April 12, 2010

In regards to the difference, my perspective is that spyware 'phones back home' in one way or another, whereas a virus is simply there to do as much damage as possible. That said, there's plenty of free software to use as an arsenal against infection either way.

Bonus: This is a decent reference for less savvy people reading this who may be trying to clean their system.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:47 PM on April 12, 2010

meta.mark: "if the less than tech savvy consumer will continute to purchase unnecessary software."

Well, that will likely happen forever, but Malwarebytes and Spybot S&D are free. There's also the free Spyware Blaster that basically does what Spybot's Immunize feature does.

Education is very important (hello to my neighbors who were conned into buying StopSign by a popup that said they were infected).

I've been using Spybot S&D, Spyware Blaster, formerly used Ad-Aware, and Malwarebytes for literally years, and have not had an infection in years. (My antivirus is Avast but I did formerly use AVG.)
posted by IndigoRain at 11:59 PM on April 12, 2010

I think malware-cleanup tools will continue to be useful. Cloud Antivirus is reportedly very effective at keeping malware off an already-clean Windows box, but it's none too great at cleaning it up if it already has a toehold, and as far as I know no presently available resident tool can fully mitigate attacks that exploit the PEBKAC.

Antivirus-grade tools generally content themselves with working at the filesystem level, blocking access to files deemed unworthy and/or archiving and/or deleting them. However, properly installed malware typically messes quite extensively with the Windows registry as well as the filesystem, and sometimes simply removing or disabling malware-related files can leave a Windows box in an unworkable state. SS&D, Malwarebytes, Combofix and friends comprise a fairly formidable automated malware-fixing knowledge base, and are generally rather better at putting Humpty together again than resident AV tools can manage.
posted by flabdablet at 2:09 AM on April 13, 2010

Response by poster: Both very good points. Well said gentlemen.

@flabdablet I do agree, certain software like HJT and Combofix are definitely in a separate category from anti-virus products and they're always good to have on had (as long as you know how to use them that is). Thankfully I haven't had to use ComboFix just yet.
posted by meta.mark at 2:27 AM on April 13, 2010

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