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Computer Viruses—What are They and How do You Prevent Them?

What is a Computer Virus?

A computer virus refers to a type of malware that attaches itself to another program or document. This malware can replicate and spread once a person opens or runs it, intentionally or unintentionally. Once a virus begins to replicate, your device is at risk of having data destroyed, system slow-downs, and logging your keystrokes.

It is important to note that not all malware is a computer virus. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, viruses are specific types of malware that have the potential to cause harm and damage to the host system when a user runs it. So, when it comes to viruses, what are some common examples?

Two Examples of Computer Viruses

When it comes to computer viruses, there are two main categories to familiarize yourself with, a Trojan and Ransomware. Both these malware categories can be viruses and play their own unique role in harming their host system’s software.

Trojan: A Trojan is a computer program that mimics something it is not to sneak onto your computer. When a Trojan successfully makes its way onto your computer, it can plant other malware.

How does a Trojan disguise itself? Well, the truth is there are countless things a Trojan can disguise itself as. For example, it can be a document attached to an email or an image you downloaded from the internet. Once you open these infected documents, the virus can replicate and wreak havoc on the host system.

Ransomware: Viruses can often be found in the form of ransomware. If a virus prevents a victim from using their system and additionally demands a ransom payment in return for regained access, the ransomware is a virus. However, not all ransomware is caused by viruses—sometimes ransomware results from a computer worm, which we will discuss later in detail.

Examples of Other Types of Malware

Rootkit: Rootkits are not considered viruses. Instead, they are software packages designed to give cyberattacks “root” access to a computer system. Therefore, they are unable to replicate and spread themselves across various systems.

Computer Worms: Worms are not viruses; however, they are a type of malware. A computer worm can harm a computer system and its files, but the way they operate is unique. The biggest difference is that a virus needs a host computer to attach itself to and a user to activate it. On the other hand, a worm does not need a host computer or user action for it to spread from one system to another. Instead, it spreads through network portals and can transfer to any computer connected to that network.

Software Bug: A bug is essentially a mistake made in the software code. Most computer bugs are completely or relatively harmless; think of the Y2K software bug. However, some software bugs can display a major threat to a system. This is because cyber-criminals can take advantage of the system’s weak points through the software bug and ultimately gain access to the system.

How to Prevent Computer Viruses

There are a few approaches that any computer user can take to prevent their system from becoming infected with viruses. It mostly starts with situational awareness and understanding the dos and don’ts around computer system safety.

Tip #1—Avoid Opening Links: Don’t open unexpected or unrecognizable links embedded in emails. If you receive a spam email, it is best to avoid opening any links or downloading any content associated with that email. Cyberattackers can use emails as a Trojan, which can then infect your system once opened by the reciever.

You should always be weary, even if the email comes from an address you recognize. Cybercriminals have been known to imitate email senders found in your address book. For the sake of staying safe, if there is anything suspicious about the email you received, reach out to the sender via text or phone to confirm if they sent it.

Tip #2—Get Software Protection: Quality cybersecurity software or anti-virus protection can do wonders in notifying you before you open a harmful link. Additionally, it can recognize any viruses that pass through your system and help to destroy them before they have time to do permanent damage.

How to Remove Computer Viruses

The easiest way to remove any viruses that find their way attached to your computer system is to download a software protection application such as anti-virus or anti-malware software. Having these protections on your computer BEFORE any risks appear can help prevent viruses from ever passing through your firewalls.

Suppose a virus does make its way into your system. In that case, cybersecurity software can begin going through your computer and clearing out the virus. This type of software will scan for infections in your computer system and clean them up by destroying them.

Fortunately, many large systems, such as Windows, have their own built-in cybersecurity software. This software is typically enough to prevent common viruses from attaching to your computer. However, it is not the strongest anti-malware or anti-virus software you can get. It is recommended to upgrade to additional protection to cover all your bases. The amount of protection you receive is based on the software security quality you have.

The Takeaway

Computer viruses have been around for decades. Fun fact, the first virus was experimented with in 1971. This virus was called “Creeper System” and was an experimental self-replicating virus created by BBN Technologies. Since Creeper System appeared, cybercriminals have been perfecting their art of infecting systems. The good news is that software developers have also made great strides at preventing and destroying viruses before they cause any damage.

The best way to keep yourself and your computer system safe from virus-based malware is to understand the basic tell-tale signs that you could be at risk of downloading a virus onto your computer. Remember, never open random links or download from any untrustworthy links and protect your computer using a high-quality cybersecurity software.

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