What is the Difference Between Antivirus and Anti-malware?

Antivirus software scans your device for known viruses and searches for any known threats. The goal of an antivirus software is to block and remove any and all malware found as quickly as possible. While an anti-malware defends against new malware you may encounter while browsing the internet.


Jessica Truong Hacker Noon profile picture

@jtruongJessica Truong

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Table of Contents:

  1. Virus vs. Malware
  2. What does Antivirus mean? 
  3. What does Anti-malware mean? 
  4. What is the difference between antivirus and anti-malware?
  5. Do I Need Both Antivirus and Anti-malware?
  6. Final Thoughts

The million-dollar question that people ask when they first research online security is:

What is the difference between antivirus and anti-malware? 

Before we get into further detail, let’s first discuss what a virus and malware are to better understand the two terms. The rest of this article will then focus on understanding antivirus and anti-malware and their differences. We will also look into whether or not you need both software on your devices.

Virus vs. Malware

A virus is a piece of code that replicates itself and causes damage to computer systems by inserting their own code. 

Malware is a broad term that includes numerous malicious software, including worms, adware, spyware, ransomware, Trojans, and viruses. Therefore, the logic follows: “all viruses are malware. Not all malware are viruses” (malwarebytes).

What Does Antivirus mean?


Antivirus software scans your device for known viruses and searches for any known threats. They monitor the behavior of all programs on a system and notify of any suspicious behaviors.  The goal of antivirus software is to block and remove all malware found as quickly as possible.

It is important to have antivirus software installed, especially with the constant emerging of cyber threats. Therefore if you do not have antivirus protection, you “could be at risk of picking up a virus or benign targeted by other malicious software that can remain undetected and wreak havoc on your computer and mobile devices” (norton).

Key Characteristics

The following characteristics indicate good antivirus software:

  • Real-time scanning: the software is continuously scanning your system and detect/react to threats as they encounter them
  • Automatic updates: automatically updates your system once malware has been found 
  • Remove threats: the software removes the malware that has been found on your system

What Does Anti-malware Mean?

Anti-malware software “defends against second-generation malware that classic antivirus software doesn’t always detect” (pandasecurity). It protects “users from the latest, currently in the wild, and even more dangerous threats” (malwarebytes). It has the capability to update its rules faster than antivirus software can, which means that it is the best protection against new malware you may encounter while browsing the web. 

Anti-malware uses three different techniques for malware detection: signature-based, behavior-based, and sandboxing.

Signature-Based Detection

This type of detection uses “a set of known software components and their digital signatures to identify new malicious software” (SearchSecurity). These signatures are then used to “identify previously identified malicious software of the same type and to flag the new software as malware.” 

Behavior-Based Detection

This detection works by “identifying malicious software by examining how it behaves rather than what it looks like” (SearchSecurity). 


Sandboxing is an isolated environment from the rest of the system used to test potentially malicious files. It is “used as a method to filter out potentially malicious files and remove them before they have had a chance to do damage” (SearchSecurity).

Key Characteristics

These are the following characteristics that you should pay attention to when searching for the appropriate anti-malware software:

  • Sandboxing
  • Traffic filtering: with traffic filtering, the software should protect your device by blocking access to suspicious servers and sites involved with malware distribution 
  • Proactive security: the software should scan, detect and remove known malware threats such as spyware, trojans, and adware

What is the Difference Between Antivirus and Anti-Malware?

The main difference between antivirus and anti-malware is that antivirus software “can protect against common types of viruses while anti-malware software works to detect new iterations of infections” (pandasecurity).

Do I Need Both Antivirus and Anti-malware?

The answer is yes. You should have both antivirus and anti-malware software on your system. 

Only having an antivirus or anti-malware software alone will not be able to catch everything on a system, “which is why security experts recommend a layered approach” (malwarebytes). It is “better to have more than one type of tool looking at threats from different angles” (malwarebytes). Antivirus and anti-malware complement each other, with “anti-malware designed to supplement antivirus protection as the cyber threat landscape becomes more sophisticated” (pandasecurity). By having both software running simultaneously, “plus safe web browsing habits, you’ll be as protected as possible against threats attempting to infiltrate your device” (pandasecurity). Individually, both software have their own purpose, and together they can perform an even better job at actively scanning, detecting, and acting on suspicious threats. 

At the same time, it is important to note that it is not guaranteed that even with antivirus and anti-malware software on your system, you will be 100% protected against any malware. 

Final Thoughts

Malware attacks will continue to happen and place users’ privacy at risk; therefore, it is important to understand the difference between antivirus and anti-malware to select the appropriate software that suits your needs. Keep in mind that antivirus offers protection against common threats (i.e., viruses, spyware, adware), whereas anti-malware can scan and detect newer threats. I know I already mentioned it earlier, but it needs to be repeated because it is extremely important. Just because you have both software on your system does not mean you are 100% protected against any new threats. 

Always remember: it’s better to be safe than sorry.


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