Malware Vs Ransomware: Key Differences Compared

In today’s computer age, cybercriminals are finding new ways to disrupt our systems and steal private information. Such attacks come in many forms, from computer viruses, bugs, and spyware.  

Two very prominent forms, malware and ransomware, cause issues to many users. But what is the difference between malware vs ransomware? How can I increase my cybersecurity practices to handle these unwanted attacks?  

Malware, a term for malicious software, is a type of virus that infiltrates your system through an email, download, pop-up ad, or attachments.  

It disrupts your service by changing system settings, downloading unwanted software, redirecting your browser searches, and ultimately leading to crashes or freezes. Malware can also steal your personal information, such as your social security number or bank details.  

It’s recommended to have antivirus software and firewall enabled on all your electronic devices and to keep this software up to date.   

man using laptop with security image above

Impacts Of Malware Attacks On Computers 

If your PC becomes infected, you should notice straight away. But malware can slip through without notice until significant damage is done. Common signs of a malware attack are listed below. 

1. Operation Disruption

If you notice a lot of pop-up ads or that you are on websites you didn't search for, you could have a malware infection. It leads you to their advertisers, disrupting the use of your PC.  

2. Information Theft

When malware has access to your system, it can steal your private information through spyware, known as a data breach. It happens to thousands of people yearly and is sold on to third parties. It can include your browser history, passwords, or contact details.  

3. Unauthorized System Resources Access

Malware will attack your system by gaining access to your applications, passwords, system data, and settings. A common form of unauthorized access is weak passwords, so make sure to use strong passwords. 

4. Slow Speeds And Network Issues

Your system's memory will be eaten up by malware, slowing your computer down and damaging the software. It will also cause issues connecting to other networks, or revoke your access to a specific network.  

5. Frequent Freezing And Crashing

Your computer will be filled with excess data and programs, alongside your RAM running at excess capacity. Your system will become overwhelmed and freeze or crash. If this happens regularly, you may have malware on your PC.  

What Does Ransomware Do?  

Ransomware is similar to malware, but it will restrict access to personal files or documents until a ransom is paid, hence the name. It's similar, as hackers can access your devices through email, attachments, downloads, etc. but will expect some payment to return control to you. 

If you are a victim of a ransomware attack, they may set you a time to pay the ransom (24 – 48 hours, for example), and if you do not, then your files will be lost forever. 

It’s important not to pay the ransom, because you still may not get your files back. Or, if you do, you may be opening yourself up to more ransomware attacks. Report any ransomware attack to the authorities.  

phone on a desk showing secure lock symbol

Impacts Of Ransomware Attacks On Computers 

Ransomware can result in more than just loss of work. A few examples are listed below. 

1. Data Loss

You may not have your data or files returned to you once you’ve paid the ransom. The encryption is asymmetric, which means only a decryption key can be used to deactivate it. 

There is no guarantee that the hackers will return your files, and they can even install more malware onto your computer once paid.  

2. Financial Loss 

Paying the fine does not mean that it’s a one-off payment. Attackers are liable to continue keeping your documents for ransom or may ask for more and more. 

Your bank details are stored on your computer, and during the attack, they may gain access to them, resulting in further financial loss.  

3. Remediation 

Once the attack is over, you may have lost a lot of your data or money, or both. Companies in particular can feel this and will need to do some damage control to their business, which can result in further loss of finances.  

4. Company Reputation 

Companies should have tight cybersecurity to prevent a ransomware attack from happening. The result can be damage to the company's image and the outlook from employees. They may appear less trustworthy or unreliable. 

Malware Vs Ransomware: Key Differences Explained

When it comes to malware vs ransomware, there aren't many striking differences. Ransomware is a type of malicious software and is delivered in roughly the same way. In comparison, there are several ways they differ.  


Malware will arrive on your computer through emails, attachments, or downloads. Since ransomware is a form of malware, it can also be installed in the same way.

However, ransomware is able to make its way through legitimate ads and hack the data, sending it into unsuspecting computers. Make sure you always have antivirus software or an ad blocker installed.  


There's not much data to suggest either happens to individuals or companies more or less often. Malware does seem to attack individual computers more often as a nuisance or to disrupt the system. Ransomware attacks also seem more common in small businesses, mid-corporations, or wealthy people.  

Related: Spear Phishing Vs Phishing: Differences Explained

Damage Intensity 

This is a major difference, as it has two different effects. Malware can be irritating and sometimes takes a while to remove, but it doesn't have the ability to destroy a business. Ransomware, on the other hand, can financially ruin a company.

Many businesses have ceased operation because of a ransomware attack. The worst result from malware would be a loss of operation on your computer, which would require you to purchase a new one.  

Attack Varieties  

Ransomware is a form of malware and doesn't come in many varieties. The two types of ransomware are called crypto and locker. The form of the ransom may differ, for example: 

  • “You have visited some illegal websites and must now pay a fine of $100.” 
  • “Your computer is infected. Click here to resolve.” 

'Malware' is an umbrella term; it encompasses all types of malicious software. From distributed denial of service (DDOS), trojan horses, viruses, worms, etc. They all fall under this category.  

Related: Malware Vs APT: Differences Explained


Malware can come in different intensities, depending on how infected your computer is. It can change your computer settings, eat away at your RAM or memory, and eventually destroy your system. 

Ransomware has a much more devastating effect, and can result in great financial loss, partial or total loss in your files or data, and even shut down businesses.  


Malware can be identified easily by your antivirus software, isolated, and destroyed. It's important to keep your antivirus up to date and running all the time to prevent any form of attack.

Ransomware can be a little bit more difficult to find; since it can come in the form of a malicious ad, it may take a little time to notice something is wrong, sometimes until the encryption takes place.  


Malware is easy to remove. Your antivirus software, as mentioned, will target any invaders and destroy the data. It can also be removed once it has been infected, though this can take a bit more time or be difficult to execute.

Ransomware is nigh on impossible to remove; the impact of attacks is so devastating because of its difficulty to remove. The impact can last a lot longer than malware can and can destroy computers quickly.  

security lock with cyber background

Comparing Other Types Of Malware 

There are many types of infections, and computers are subject to attacks daily. Three variations of malicious software can vary differently, and each has its own effects:  

Crypto Malware Vs Ransomware 

Crypto malware works similarly to ransomware by encrypting all the files and data on a computer, sometimes until a ransom is completed. It differs as it may not always ask for a ransom or be as difficult to remove as ransomware.  

Virus Vs Ransomware 

A virus is designed to disrupt a computer's operation or change system settings. They can be easily removed by a specialist. Ransomware is much more dangerous and can affect a lot of people quicker than a virus can. It will always require a ransom to be paid under the guise it will come to an end.  

Spyware Vs Ransomware 

Spyware collects your data; from monitoring keystrokes or viewing your social security details, passwords, or bank accounts. Spyware isn’t designed with a ransom in mind, however, as it can be used to sell your data to third parties.

Ransomware will lock you out of your files until a ransom is paid, and spyware can be used to initiate a ransomware attack.  

man wearing gloves and using a laptop

How To Tell If My Computer Is Infected? 

  • Freezing, Crashing & Slow Operation  
    A slow computer or frequent freezing and crashes will indicate your system is overloaded. If this occurs regularly, you should run a virus scan immediately on your computer. 
  • Bizarre Error Messages  
    If you find an error message pop up that you've never seen before or doesn't look legitimate, this could be a sign of malware or ransomware. Don't click on it, as this can make the attack worse.  
  • Locked Computer  
    Your system inexplicably locking or denying you access to your files is an obvious sign of infection. You should either run your antivirus software or contact a specialist to have it removed.  
  • Unauthorized Installation Of Programs  
    Malware will install seemingly harmless applications on your system, without prior agreement from the administrator. If you notice programs you didn’t install, you may have a malware infection.  
  • Unexpected System Restart  
    PCs and Macs restart after a software update automatically. But malware can restart your computer remotely, and if you notice this happening without prior warning, your system could have malware installed. 
  • Disabled System Tools  
    Malware is sneaky and can remotely disable your security system or antivirus. A pop-up message will usually appear if it has been disabled and will pop up frequently. 
  • Annoying Pop-Ups  
    Simple pop-ups, such as letting you know your system is running out of memory, can be a tell-tale sign of an infection. Clicking on this can allow malware to invade more memory, causing a computer crash.  
  • Unauthorized Messages Sent To Contacts  
    If your friends or family are receiving messages from you that you didn’t send, then this is usually malware. They use your contacts on social media or your email account to find their next target to spread to.  

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can malware be removed? 

Thankfully, malware can be removed by malware scanners or by professionals. If you have an antivirus installed, check it also scans for malware, as some don't do both.  

Can ransomware be removed? 

Though it is not impossible, it’s extremely difficult. It’s recommended that highly experienced computer users attempt to remove ransomware. Decryption tools are available if the attack is encrypted.  

Can ransomware spread through WiFi? 

Yes. It can attack through your WiFi and disrupt the network, causing major disruption to businesses. It can travel through your internet in a similar way a computer worm does. This is why it's recommended to use a DD-WRT router with good security. 

Does factory reset remove Ransomware or Malware? 

Your computer has a recovery partition, which stores the factory settings. However, it can become infected and wouldn't remove the malware.  

What is the biggest Ransomware attack ever?  

An attack by WannaCry, a ransomware software, was executed in May 2017 and targeted computers running Windows operating system. It only lasted a few hours but is estimated to have affected over 200,000 computers in 150 countries.  


No computer is completely safe from a malware or ransomware attack. Simply clicking on the wrong email by accident can trigger the attack, and as seen from WannaCry, it can affect even the most secure computers.

Knowing how they work and their removal can help you should you fall victim to an attack. Always keep your antivirus and malware scanners running, and always seek professional help should you need it.