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What Is A Computer Virus?

April 26, 2016

While most people know that computer viruses can harm their computers, not many folks are aware of the type and amount of damage viruses are actually capable of inflicting. One of the first viruses ever was developed in the late 1980’s as part of an experiment at MIT. However, hackers saw ‘potential’ in spreading viruses and soon began writing their own viruses. By the beginning of the 1990’s, viruses became common, which they have remained ever since.

What Is A Computer Virus?

Viruses can wreak havoc on millions of computers worldwide. They can cause irreparable damage for both businesses and individuals. For this reason, computer users around the world resort to anti-virus software, hoping that their computer won’t be infected. To protect yourself from viruses, you first need to understand what they are, how to determine if you have been infected and what to do if you have caught a virus.

The Essentials

To put it simply, a virus is a computer program that copies itself and attacks other computer programs. Its viral code is spread when the malicious program is launched. Generally speaking, viruses are activated once they are loaded into your computer’s memory. Though your computer may continue to run normally, it can still spread the virus. To be precise, viruses can spread through downloads, email attachments or any type of removable media, including USB drives, CDs, and DVDs. The worst part is that viruses can take control of your computer without your knowledge. What’s more, some viruses are so potent that they can change themselves each time they attack a new host.

Viruses can have little or no detrimental effect, such as those that show unwanted messages or play music, or they can be extremely malicious, aiming to corrupt or destroy data and interfere with your system performance. However, the good news is that not many viruses are malignant and that you can protect yourself from the majority of them.

The Mechanism

What Is A Computer Virus?The main reason why anti-virus software works is that all viruses basically work on the same principle. When the virus code is launched, it replicates itself and attacks other programs. What differs from virus to virus is how they spread. For instance, some need a trigger (a specific day or time, an external event, etc.) to infect whereas others infect every time they are run. When speaking of virus behavior, it’s important to note that the two phases of their operation are the infection phase and the attack phase. What’s so notorious about the first phase is that their main goal is to spread as fast as possible without the host knowing that they have been infected.

The attack phase is when you notice that something is wrong with your computer. Keep in mind that this phase can also be triggered by some event. Furthermore, some viruses don’t have an attack phase, which doesn’t mean that you should ignore them; on the contrary, they can also slow down your computer, take up space, and cause various side harmful side effects. What should worry you the most, though, is that the attack phase doesn’t have to begin for days, weeks or even months after the infection.

The Infection

Nowadays, people are massively defending themselves from viruses by using anti-virus software, but that doesn’t mean that you still can’t get infected. However, contrary to popular belief, you cannot get a virus by just browsing the Internet. In order to become infected, you have to download the virus from the Internet and then run it. In a nutshell, the Internet is a safe place if you know what to look for and if you use common sense while downloading files, running programs (viruses can be attached to software programs such as games) and opening email attachments.

Another common way to get infected is booting from an infected diskette, CD or DVD, which means that you should always remove disks when you no longer need them. In other words, don’t start up your computer with any of these disks in the drive. The bottom line is that viruses are a serious threat to your computer. Luckily, there’s a number of ways to stay safe. In addition to using high-quality anti-virus software, limiting the access to your computer and paying attention to online security, back up all your files, as this will allow you to recover them following an infection.

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