Antivirus vs anti-malware: what’s the difference?

Antivirus vs anti-malware

Antivirus and anti-malware are the basic building blocks for any small and medium enterprise’s (SME) cybersecurity strategy. They’re the most well-known cybersecurity tools, and it’s rare to find a business that doesn’t use one.

But do you know what they protect you from, the difference between an antivirus and an anti-malware, and whether you need both? Let’s explore these key talking points.

Malware vs viruses

Before discussing the merits of the two types of software, we must tackle the difference between viruses and malware. Most people assume that the two things are synonymous. Isn’t ‘virus’ just a slightly dated way to say ‘malware’?

That’s almost correct. However, this is the world of cybersecurity, so things are always a little more complicated than they first appear.

The term ‘virus’ describes malicious code that can reproduce repeatedly – just like a biological virus. The code damages your device by corrupting your system or destroying data. Viruses are also usually considered legacy threats that have existed for a long time, and today’s cybercriminals rarely use them.

On the other hand, malware is an umbrella term that refers to many different threats. These range from ransomware to spyware and even some newer viruses (confusing, we know). The key difference is its novelty. 

The threats under the term malware are new, constantly evolving, and very much in use among modern cybercriminals. So, antivirus software providers have upped their game to protect customers.

Considering cybersecurity certification but not sure where to start? Check out our guide to certifications in the UK.

Antivirus vs anti-malware: the key differences explained

As you might expect, antivirus usually deals with older, more established cyber threats. To illustrate, think of warnings from the noughties – endless error pop-ups, trojan horses, and worm viruses. These attacks typically enter your business through tried and tested routes such as email attachments, corrupted USBs, and other standard cyber threat delivery methods.

These cyber nasties are generally very predictable and easy to counter. However, they can still do plenty of damage if left unchecked. 


Anti-malware software focuses on defending against the latest threats. A good anti-malware protects your business against ransomware, spyware, sophisticated phishing attacks, and zero-day attacks. Anti-malware usually updates its rules faster than an antivirus, making it the best protection against any new threats you might encounter. 

Antivirus vs. anti-malware: which should you choose?

At this point, you might be wondering why you need an antivirus if anti-malware can protect your devices against the most common types of cybercrime

Although this is a valid question, it’s a risky way to approach cybersecurity. Sure, most of the threats covered by antivirus might be dated and rarely used by the bad guys. However, that doesn’t mean they no longer exist or that they can’t still give you a significant cybersecurity headache.

Doing without antivirus is a bit like a state deciding to focus exclusively on protection from nuclear threats while neglecting the potential for invasion by land. It’s a flawed approach that leaves your business open to attack.Instead, it’s better to take a layered approach to your cybersecurity – by which we mean installing antivirus and anti-malware software to protect your business against new and old threats. 

Choosing cybersecurity solutions isn’t an either/or dilemma

Antivirus and anti-malware aren’t mutually exclusive. A truly effective cybersecurity strategy includes tools, training, and measures to counter any threat. Something as simple as a Cyber Essentials certification ensures your business complies with the basic requirements to deter cyber threats. This is because the steps to get qualified include:

  • Data encryption
  • Firewalls
  • User access management
  • Software and operating system updates

You get support and clear step-by-step instructions for mitigating malware in your business so you don’t overlook any vulnerabilities. Learn how easy it is to get certified today.

Cybersecurity certifications

Essential cyber security terms: decoded

If you’re like most people, no one ever taught you how to use a computer. Not properly. They aren’t like cars. Rightly so, we force excitable teenagers through a host of training before we let them behind the wheel. They spend months in lessons learning the basics of how to use it, maintain it, and control it before they can be trusted to take it out on the road.

No, at some point most of us just sat down at a screen, ignored the instruction manual, and relied on some well-designed user interfaces to figure it out ourselves.

This is a dangerous game. Your computer is not an isolated piece of hardware. It is linked to that greatest of connectors and stores of information- the internet.
These computers have access to your banking details, your shopping preferences, your personal data and correspondence and most of the time we’re operating them with very little training or testing.

As the world of cyber security develops, it’s important that businesses and customers have at least a rudimentary knowledge of basic terms which they may come across as they live and work via their computers. You don’t have to be an IT technician to protect your device, just as you don’t have to be a mechanic to check your oil.

We’ve compiled a short list of some of the most common terms in the cyber security world and what they mean for you. So hopefully, next time you see a prompt for two-factor authentication, you’ll take them up on it:

Antivirus software is used to prevent or remove unwanted malware from infecting a computer. Using this software provides a computer user with a safer working environment and a more efficiently operating computer. There are lots of companies offering anti-virus software including Avira, Symantec and McAfee.

An incident in which data, computer systems or networks are accessed or affected in a non-authorised way. Also known as a ‘hack.’

Bring your own device (BYOD)
An organisation’s policy that allows employees to use their own personal devices for work purposes.

Where shared compute and storage resources are accessed as a service (usually online), instead of hosted locally on physical services. Resources can include infrastructure, platform or software services.

Digital footprint
A ‘footprint’ of digital information that a user’s online activity leaves behind.

End user device (EUD) or end point
Collective term to describe modern smartphones, laptops and tablets that connect to an organisation’s network.

A network security system that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic. Establishes a barrier between a trusted internal network and untrusted external network, such as the Internet.

Malicious software – a term that includes viruses, trojans, worms or any code or content that could have an adverse impact on organisations or individuals.

Applying updates to firmware or software to improve security and/or enhance functionality.

Short for penetration test. An authorised test of a computer network or system designed to look for security weaknesses so that they can be fixed.

Two-factor authentication (2FA)
The use of two different components to verify a user’s claimed identity such as a password and text to your mobile device. Also known as multi-factor authentication.

Cyber Security 101 – Anti-virus software


Cybersecurity and data protection can be overwhelming. There is an enormous amount of advice on the Internet, but it is quite difficult to know how to get to start. At CyberSmart, we believe that Cyber Security should be accessible and easy for everyone.  So we’ve compiled a series of actionable steps to help you protect your data. This week, we’re talking anti-virus software.


Cybersecurity and data protection can be overwhelming. There is an enormous amount of advice on the Internet, but it is quite difficult to know how to get to start. At CyberSmart, we believe that Cyber Security should be accessible and easy for everyone.  So we’ve compiled a series of actionable steps to help you protect your data. This week, we’re talking anti-virus software.