Computer Worm vs Virus: The Differences Explained

You feel like throwing your laptop out the window. Your blood is boiling and your brain is teeming with expletives. 

The screen keeps freezing, and the performance is lagging. The pop-ups on websites are unbearable, and your battery is draining too quickly. 

“What is wrong with my computer?” you wonder to yourself. 

You suspect your computer has a virus, or maybe, it could be a worm. What’s the difference between the two anyway? 

You have come to the right place. Continue reading to learn the differences between a computer worm vs. virus and how to find help. 


Malware is an umbrella term for malicious software that attacks your computer’s files, causes harm to your device’s system, and steals and sells your personal data. Oftentimes, malware is created to generate wealth for hackers. 

Types of malware include ransomware, spyware, the trojan horse, and adware. 

Both the computer worm and the computer virus are forms of malware. The computer worm is typically viewed as a subset of the computer virus, but the worm operates differently from the virus. 

What Is a Computer Worm?

A computer worm is a malicious malware that self-replicates and infects networks according to vulnerabilities. A worm requires no human interaction. The worm scans for vulnerabilities and exploits those vulnerabilities. 

Without the need for human interaction, the worms spread rapidly. 

While worms exploit security holes, odds are you will have no awareness that your computer is infected with worms. When you connect to a wi-fi network, worms can spread to other computers connected to the network, and so forth and so forth. 

A network worm can cause devastation for vast groups of people across businesses, governments, hospitals, and even nations. 

What Is a Computer Virus?

Viruses operate differently in that they lie dormant within files until activated by human command. After a human executes a script of a file, the virus begins self-replicating and spreads, infecting many kinds of files. 

This is how the computer virus got its name anyhow. The computer virus behaves like a biological virus in the manner that it spreads and attaches itself to its host.

Computer Worm vs. Virus 

So if we break it down, you can see that the key difference between a computer worm and a computer virus is the cause of how they spread. 

Viruses require a human to trigger their replication process. Worms need no human action to begin replicating. All a worm needs are to detect vulnerabilities within the system. 

For this reason, worms spread more quickly than the average virus. 

How Do Viruses and Worms Spread?

Viruses and worms are generally spread through phishing emails or emails with attachments. They can spread through attachments, downloads, and external links through SMS messaging and other types of instant messaging. 

Worms can easily spread through shared networks. A network worm can cause devastating effects. 

An Example of a Virus

One of the worst viruses of all time goes to the ILOVEYOU virus. 

This virus was written by Filipino programmers, Onel de Guzman and Reonel Ramones, in 2000. Guzman wrote the program to steal passwords to gain internet access, a luxury he could not afford at the time.  He did not expect the virus to spread worldwide. 

The ILOVEYOU disguised itself as a love letter from a secret admirer within an email. Who does not want a secret admirer? Unsuspecting victims of the virus opened the email attachment, which spurred the virus to overwrite files, replicate itself, and spread. 

The ILOVEYOU virus was one of the most destructive viruses of all time. Altogether, the virus caused $15 billion in damage. 

An Example of a Worm

Code Red, named in honor of Code Red Mountain Dew, caused a lot of damage back in 2001. Code Red infiltrated Microsoft IIS web servers through overflow vulnerabilities. The worm then replicates itself over and over and over again, overworking the system’s resources. 

The worm evolved and even attacked the White House’s website. Code Red allowed the ability to gain remote access, a very scary consequence. A trademark of the Code Red worm was the pop-up message: “Hacked by Chinese!”.

“Hacked by Chinese!” has become a catchphrase on its own. 

Altogether, Code Red caused $2 billion in damage and affected 25 percent of servers at the time. 

Preventing Computer Viruses and Worms

To prevent these disasters from happening, it’s important to have safeguards in place. A good place to start is to install antivirus software and firewalls. 

Setting reminders to update your software for patches would be beneficial. Running routine analytics to detect infiltration would also be beneficial. Setting up alerts will also help you spot possible threats. 

While you use the internet, it’s important to think twice before opening attachments or downloading files from unknown or questionable origins. Be careful with what you click. Malware can be lurking on websites you visit.

Malware can attach to your computer’s system by what is called “a drive-by” or by clicking on ads. It’s important to make smart choices on the web. 

Choose Computer Revival

If you live in the Tucson, Arizona area, Computer Revival would be more than happy to remove that dreaded virus for you. 

Fixing a computer can be hard if you are not familiar with the operations of computer software. You do not have to worry or wonder about the differences between a computer worm vs. virus. We got you. 

We would be more than happy to provide diagnostics or a consultation to help you get started on removing that malware.  Contact us today to get the ball rolling. 

We would love to help you! 

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