Malware is one of the most common cyber threats facing businesses today. Most businesses, of course, have some type of information technology (IT) infrastructure. If infected with malware, it may cause data loss or data theft. While all malware is inherently malicious, though, there are different types of malware, including polymorphic and metamorphic. What’s the difference between polymorphic and metamorphic malware?

What Is Polymorphic Malware?

Polymorphic malware is malicious software that’s able to morph itself with an encryption key. Encryption keys are used to encrypt data. When applied to data, an encryption key will scramble it so that it’s no longer legible. Polymorphic malware leverages an encryption key so that it can change its data, or more specifically, its code.

What is Metamorphic Malware?

Metamorphic malware, on the other hand, is malicious software that’s able to rewrite its code. Like with polymorphic malware, it’s characterized by its ability to morph or change into something else. There are polymorphic viruses, and there are metamorphic viruses. Both types of viruses morph while they spread. Metamorphic viruses, as well as other types of metamorphic malware, simply rewrite their code.

Differences Between Polymorphic Malware and Metamorphic Malware

While they are both capable of morphing, polymorphic and metamorphic malware aren’t the same. Only polymorphic malware uses an encryption key. If your computer is infected with polymorphic malware, it will use an encryption key to change its code. The encryption key will scramble the polymorphic malware’s code so that it looks different from its original form.

Metamorphic malware doesn’t use an encryption key. Instead, it rewrites its code — typically with each new iteration. When metamorphic malware spreads, for instance, it will create a new iteration of itself that features new code. This is in stark contrast to polymorphic malware, which doesn’t rewrite its code. Polymorphic malware simply uses an encryption algorithm to scramble its code.

How to Protect Against Polymorphic Malware and Metamorphic Malware

You can protect against both types of morphing malware by using traditional cybersecurity solutions. Antivirus software is able to defend against polymorphic and metamorphic malware. For a strong defense, make sure antivirus software is installed on all of your business’s computers.

In addition to antivirus software, keeping all of your business’s computers updated with the latest operating system (OS) version will protect them from these two types of morphing malware. Running an outdated OS is a security vulnerability. It may be used to deploy polymorphic or metamorphic malware on one of your business’s computers.