Computer Viruses, Malware And Trojan Horses: What’s The Difference?

As frustrating as it can be having a computer ‘virus’ infect your machine, when shopping for a computer service center to repair your computer it helps to know what you are actually dealing with.  While many of us are in the habit of calling any nasty infection a virus, the difference between a virus and a trojan horse can often mean a much different type of repair.  In short, here is the definition of the three:

  • Malware: A portmanteau word made by combining the words “malicous” and “software”.  This is an all encompassing word that includes viruses, trojan horses, root kits, and all kinds of other bad stuff that you’ve probably never even heard of.
  • Virus:  A form of malware that infects your machine all by itself by coming in though a security hole in your software.
  • Trojan Horse:  Having drawn its name from the Trojan War, trojan horse’s are a type of malware that someone has to actually install onto the computer; usually after having been tricked into thinking that it was something else like a java or flash update, a viewer for some type of photo or video, a free coupon printer, or a completely fake antivirus or computer cleanup tool.

Viruses and trojan horses are much different from one another, so when shopping for a computer repair center it helps to be able to tell them exactly which one you have.  Since a virus comes in on its own though a security hole they are usually more contained and limited in what they can do than a trojan horse.  Trojan horses are truly nasty business, and can only get onto the computer by having someone manually install it.  An infected website will often tell you that your Java or Flash software is out of date and provide you with a link to download it.  Even though the link shows you a picture of Java or Flash and the installer looks real, you are actually installing a trojan horse.  At some point during the installation the Windows security system (called user account control) will pop up with a message warning you that “This program is trying to make changes to your computer – do you want to allow this?”  If the user gives it permission to install it can then do absolutely anything to your computer that it wants to and your antivirus software has just been rendered powerless to stop it by the users own action.

Given the nature of each, a virus and how it is usually restricted to one small area of the operating system where the security hole is, it is usually relatively easy and inexpensive to remove you can go back to using the computer normally again.  Trojan horses on the other hand can encrypt your data and hold it for ransom, lock you out of your computer and demand a ransom payment, steal or erase your documents, pictures and other data, and do just about anything that whoever wrote it wants it to do.  For this reason simply removing the trojan horse will not necessarily bring the computer back to running condition.  The trojan horse often replaces parts of the operating system with itself, and removing it will leave behind a wake of broken subsystems.  Windows updates may no longer work, you might not be able to print, or you may find the machine mysteriously reinfected within a very short time.  For this reason it is almost always advisable to completely reload the computers operating system when dealing with a trojan horse.

For a skilled computer technician this process generally takes a full day given the need to backup and restore data, reload Windows and then re-install hundreds of Windows security and feature updates, re-setup email systems and other software programs.   A reload of your computer if incorrectly done can result in a permanent loss of all of your documents, pictures, emails, internet shortcuts and any other valuable data that you have stored on the machine.  For this reason it is advisable to seek the help of a computer service center.  A computer service center, as opposed to many of the small independent computer repair technicians who come to your house will have a large lab or depot center where one of their technicians can simultaneously work on about five reloads at the same time, thus making the repair very affordable as opposed to having someone who has come to your home or business and is billing hourly for it.

Computer repair service centers offer on-site services however dropping the computer off at a computer service center offers significant savings over the hourly rates for on-site computer repair work.

In cooperation with:
IT Connect - Computer Service Center

“Malicious Software Removal Tool”.  Retrieved May 8, 2014.
Trojan Horse Definition“. Retrieved May 8, 2014
What is the difference between viruses, worms, and Trojans?“.  Retrieved May 8, 2014

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