What is the Difference Between Adware and a Virus?

While adware and computer viruses are both examples of undesirable software applications that create inconvenience and frustration for computer users, it is important to note that adware and a virus are very different in what type of issues they cause for those users. Basically, adware can be a nuisance that wastes time but really does not threaten the operation of the system or the compromising of proprietary data found on the hard drive. In contrast, a computer virus may cause permanent damage to the hard drive while also gaining access to and distributing information such as email address books or financial information found in different programs on the hard drive.

The main function of adware and a virus is very different. With adware, the goal is usually automatic advertising. Often bundled in with spyware that transmits information back to a home source regarding Internet browsing activity, the adware component then triggers pop-up ads or the generation of unwanted email solicitations based on the browsing activity. The idea is to get products in front of consumers that advertisers believe will be of interest, based on the type of searches those consumers have conducted in the past. While annoying, adware tends to use relatively few resources and poses no real threat to the integrity of the hard drive.

A virus, on the other hand, is often malicious in intent. Depending on the exact function of the virus, it may destroy data found on the hard drive, possibly even propagating through any network that is accessed by that computer and infecting other systems. The virus may block access to certain programs and often begins to replicate itself in various directories, imbedding itself in essential files, making detection and removal a difficult process. Some viruses are configured to begin proliferating as soon as attempts are made to remove the infected files, and may even have the capability to gain control of email programs and distribute emails that contain infected attachments that allow the virus to infect other systems when the files are opened. A virus may also lock the system, requiring the user to purchase some type of remedy or solution from the originator of the virus before being allowed to regain access to the data found on the hard drive.

Fortunately there are software packages that help to protect users from infection by adware and a virus of any type. Good quality antivirus programs will often also scan for adware and spyware, removing the components as part of the general cleanup operation. There are also antispyware programs that will aid in identifying and removing both adware and a virus that has been identified by the software provider. Since new configurations for both viruses and adware are constantly being released, regularly updating protection programs is essential to keeping hard drives clean and free of these types of bothersome and malicious software.