The terms “worm” and “virus” are often used interchangeably when referring to self-replicating forms of computer malware. When malware is able to reproduce and spread, it may be referred to as one of these two terms. However, a worm isn’t the same as a virus. While both forms of malware are self-replicating, they each have their own unique properties. To fully protect your small business’s information technology (IT) infrastructure from cyber attacks, you should familiarize yourself with the nuances between worms and viruses.

What Is a Virus?

A virus is a form of malware that’s able to reproduce by copying itself into another program or file. In other words, the targeted program or file acts as the host. Once a computer is infected with a virus, the virus will begin to seek new programs or files in which to copy itself. Assuming the virus is successful, it can quickly spread as it searches for new hosts.

As explained by Cisco, nearly all viruses attach themselves to executable files. Also known simply as an executable, an executable file works to perform tasks based on encoded instructions. As the virus attaches itself to an executable file, it will perform its malicious functions, which may include a denial-of-service (DoS) attack, the deployment of ransomware, data theft and more. At the same time, the virus will seek other connected machines and devices to infect. It’s a troublesome form of malware that can wreak havoc on your small business’s IT infrastructure.

What Is a Worm?

A worm is a form of malware that’s able to reproduce by itself, without the need for another file. Worms themselves are malicious programs or software, so they don’t require the use of a host file. The worm’s internal code allows it to reproduce automatically, thus eliminating the need for a host file.

For a worm to infect a computer, the victim must typically execute it. Therefore, worms are often used in conjunction with phishing or social engineering schemes in an effort to deceive the victim into downloading and executing the malicious worm file.

To recap, the primary difference between a virus and a worm is that the former requires a file or program to self-replicate, whereas the latter does not. Both types of malware can be coded to perform a variety of nefarious tasks. As a result, you should strive to protect your small business’s IT infrastructure from viruses as well as worms.