Malware, adware and spyware – what’s the difference?

Published: 01 June, 2022

The cyber security landscape is constantly evolving, with cyber criminals continuing to find new ways to target customers and businesses alike.

Each threat carries a new name, and it can be hard to protect yourself unless you know what the threats are – so in this post we’ll be looking at the differences between malware, adware and spyware.


Malware stands for “malicious software,” and is an umbrella term referring to any intrusive software developed by cybercriminals. Think of it as a virus, but with criminal intent. Malware often has the aim to either steal personal or company data, or to damage devices and computer systems. Examples of common malware include worms, viruses, Trojan viruses, adware and spyware.

Malware continue to become a problem for both businesses and individuals. Recent research found that malware was the leading cause behind security attacks.


Adware is a malicious form of software that incessantly bombards you with advertising pop-ups. Sometimes called advertising-supported software by its developers, adware is software that generates revenue for its developer by automatically creating online advertisements in the user interface of the software or on a screen presented to the user.

Aside from being incredibly annoying you, malicious adware can track your online activity and steal your personal data.


Spyware is malicious software designed to enter your computer device, gather data about you, and forward it to a third-party without your knowledge or consent.

Called spy software, or “spy spyware,” these programs can intercept ingoing and outgoing text messages, locate where you are through GPS, obtain your call history and duration, find out who is in your contacts and access your live conversations. The information is uploaded to a Web site, where your “spy” can view it.

How can you protect yourself?

While cyber criminals continue to seek new ways to fool us and steal our data, there are some actions you can take to prevent them targeting you in the first place.

  • Install an antivirus software across all of your devices
  • Don’t click on anything that seem too good to be true. Any ads offering you a free TV, iPhone or holiday – basically anything that seems to good to be true is probably a scam
  • Adjust your browser’s privacy settings: Depending on which browser you use, you should be able to prevent third parties from installing things like toolbars without your consent.

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