What is a Computer Worm?

What is a computer worm or virus? Like most people, you’ve probably heard plenty about these two and are wondering if they’re the same thing. The truth is that worms can only operate if they have an active host program to latch onto. 

They also thrive when placed into an already infected operating system because it enables them to further infect and damage the files within that system. On the other hand, worms are independent malicious programs with the ability to self-replicate and spread on their own without outside assistance.

Worms often come in the form of a Word document attachment or a similar executable file. They can propagate through email attachment downloads, infected websites, and even P2P file sharing. Worms can remain latent inside a computer system while the user is completely oblivious to its presence. 

But, once activated, it can self-replicate and spread to other unprotected server and computers in the same network. A worm infection can spread like wildfire within a short amount of time through the computer network and the Internet.

How Do These Worms Work?

What is a computer worm and how does it work? Before we get into that, note that it’s possible for worms to spread through negligence that creates software vulnerabilities. Computer worms can come in the form of instant messages (IMs) and spam email attachments. However, they remain latent until the user opens said message. Clicking on the link or attachment will usually set off a chain of events that allows the worm to infect your system.

Once they’re in, worms can remove or change files and even install more malicious software into your computer. Other worms self-replicate in a never-ending cycle that drains your bandwidth or hard drive to the point that they overload the shared network.

Not only that but worms can make your computer vulnerable to data theft and fraud from hackers, and significantly damage your computer’s resources.

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Worms vs. Viruses

The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University’s CERT Division released a “Security of the Internet” report back in 1996 which defined computer worms as self-replicating programs that act and spread autonomously once they’ve been triggered. On the other hand, although viruses are also self-replicating, they’re not as autonomous as worms.

Nevertheless, a computer worm will always follow its primary function or purpose once it activates. Its main goal is usually to stay in the infected system for a long period of time before it spreads onto other vulnerable systems and devices within the same network.

How Computer Viruses and Worms Spread?

Worms typically spread by using the following malicious software programs:

  • Virus
  • PSP- Worm
  • Net-Worm
  • IRC- Worm
  • IM- Worm
  • Email- Worm


There’s also a class of unknown computer worms which typically spread through the following means and methods:

  • They get sent out as network packets that have the ability to infiltrate computer memory. The worm code is usually triggered once it gets into the intended memory spot.
  • Peer to peer (P2P) file-sharing networks
  • A link that’s sent to you via IRC or ICQ message
  • Through a link that’s sent through an FTP resource or the world wide web
  • Email attachment files that look legit

Beware of computer worms because they can alter network configuration errors. For instance, they can effectively copy themselves onto another disk or self-replicate through faulty application or operating system security. A lot of worms use more than one way to spread through various networks and this is what makes them so dangerous.


Viruses differ according to the mechanism of action they use to infect a particular device:

  • Script viruses
  • Macro viruses
  • Boot sector viruses
  • File viruses

How to Stay Safe

The first thing to do is to install anti-malware software. This should be in your laptop, PC, Mac etc. Pretty much any and every digital device that you use regularly. You should also regularly update your anti-malware software to make sure that it can withstand new innovations in malware threats.

Some of the best anti-malware programs available have the ability to spot and prevent worm infections. On the other hand, you can use antivirus software to protect your Android smartphone and tablet from infection.

Most of the antivirus programs are compatible with the following devices:

  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Apple Macs
  • Linux computers
  • Windows PCs


For more protection, you should try Defencebyte! Defencebyte features protection against malwares and checks your devices regularly for online threats such as worms, viruses, trojans, etc.

Did this article help you figure out what is a computer worm? Let us know in the comments section below what type of protection do you usually use and if you have been successful at getting rid of any computer worm in the past. Thank you!


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