Worms and viruses are used in technology as synonyms. However, this is not entirely accurate. Although a worm is a type of virus, it behaves differently. What is a worm and how does it work? We explain in this article.

What is a worm?

When you hear the term “worm,” you may think of several things. Think of a sweet and slightly sour soft, chewy candy. Think of the cold-blooded invertebrates that live on the earth’s surface. And when you think of computers, you might also think of malware. Naturally, we focus on the latter variety.

Briefly described, a worm is a type of malware that spreads itself from computer to computer. So, many people immediately think of this as a “virus“, but is it?

Is a worm the same as a virus?

No. Although a worm is not a virus, it can cause data loss and disrupt computer operations in the same way that a virus does. A worm is significantly more harmful than a virus because it can “replicate” itself and spread across different devices after infecting a vulnerable system. A virus, therefore, cannot do this.

Computer worms are an important segment of the world of malware, and have the ability to cause significant damage. They are designed to replicate and spread themselves without human interaction, making them particularly dangerous.

The concept of a computer worm is not new. The first worms surfaced in the late 1980s and since then they have become a growing threat in the digital landscape. They have the ability to spread rapidly across networks and can perform a wide range of malicious activities, such as stealing sensitive data, disrupting network services, or acting as a “carrier” for other forms of malware.

It is important to note that people use the terms “virus” and “worm” often interchangeably, they represent two different types of malware. Unlike a virus, a worm does not need a host to replicate or spread. This means that a worm can operate and spread independently without tying it to specific software or files on the infected system.

While developing strategies to deal with this threat can be challenging, the right precautions and security tools can go a long way in protecting your systems from worms. In the following sections of this guide, we will take a closer look at the nature of worms, how they work, and how to protect against them.

How does a computer worm work?

Computer worms spread themselves. They spread by abusing the automatic sending and receiving functions of networked PCs, which are activated either consciously or unconsciously. The worm infects a computer and installs itself in memory, from where it can spread to other computers.

Worms can use software bugs to spread. E-mail spam, as well as instant messaging, can contain computer worms. They can contain links to a dangerous Web site or download the computer worm automatically when you open them. Immediately after installation, the worm takes over and infects the computer without human intervention.

Worms can modify and delete data and install other malicious software on a computer. Computer worms constantly duplicate themselves to deplete system resources such as hard disk space and bandwidth or overload a shared network. Worms can steal data, open a backdoor and allow a hacker to access system settings, and wreak havoc on a computer’s resources.

Computer worms spread by exploiting weaknesses in the network. The malware looks for a previously unreported backdoor in the network. Because the worm or its creator can take advantage of the infected machine’s computing capabilities, it is common for them to include them in a botnet. Cybercriminals then use them for DDoS attacks or crypto mining.

Ways of infection

There are several ways computer worms are spreading and infect computers:

Emails with infected files.

The most common way infection occurs is through email attachments. The attachment often contains two file extensions (for example, .mp4.exe and .avi.exe) to trick the recipient into believing it is a media file rather than a potentially harmful piece of software.

Worms via file sharing

Although file sharing and peer-to-peer file transfers are illegal, millions of people worldwide use them. By doing so, they inadvertently expose their computers to the risk of a file-sharing virus. Like e-mail and instant messaging worms, these infections are often disguised as dual-purpose media files.

Instant Messaging

Like emails, instant messaging worms spread by convincing the recipient to open a link or attachment. Short phrases such as “LOL” or “You must see this!” are often used to trick the victim into thinking an acquaintance has sent them an exciting video to watch.