Top 10 things everyone must know about computer viruses

Top 10 things everyone must know about computer viruses Eric Koshinsky

1. What is a virus? A virus is the name for a parasitic program written to intentionally enter a computer without the user’s permission or knowledge. The word parasitic is used because a virus attaches to files or boot sectors and replicates itself so it can spread. Though some viruses do little more than copy themselves, others can cause serious damage or affect program and system performance. Therefore a virus should never be assumed harmless or left on a system.

2. One way you can’t get a virus You cannot get a virus simply by being on the internet or using an online service. You will only become infected via the internet if you download an infected file and then run that file.

3. Three ways you can get a virus There are only three ways you can get a virus: i) by executing an infected program ii) booting from an infected diskette iii) opening an infected email attachment. Strictly speaking i) and iii) are pretty much the same, but most people think of them quite differently, so I will too.

4. What are infected program viruses? Infected program viruses are often attached to other software programs like games, disk utilities, the macros in office documents and screen-savers. They are activated when these normally harmless programs are started. When the infected application is run the virus activates and loads into memory, where it can infect any new program that you open. This means that ever more applications on your system will become infected, which will almost certainly cause system problems. Files downloaded directly from the Internet (either through file-sharing programs or direct download from websites), are among the fastest growing sources of computer virus infections.

5. What is a boot infector? Booting from an infected disk simply means allowing your computer to start up with a disc, CD or DVD in the drive. Even so called ‘non bootable’ diskettes, CD’s, and DVD’s can be infected by a boot sector virus, so make a point of removing all kinds of discs when you’ve finished with them. Once the ‘boot code’ on your hard drive is infected, the virus will be loaded into your computer’s memory every time you start your computer, from where the virus can infect each and every disk that is put into your computer. Floppy disks, though not as commonly used as in the past, are still a very common way viruses being spread from machine to machine. Anyone with an infected machine, using a floppy disk to copy and save files, can also copy and transfer the virus.

6. How do email infections happen? Email is now a favorite way to spread viruses. They are contained in the attachments (the files that can be sent along with an e-mail message). Often the user of an infected computer unknowingly attaches an infected file to an email message, and then sends the email to a friend or colleague. When the email is received and the file attachment is opened, the virus launches itself. Email messages with animations, automated greeting cards, jokes, photographs, even spreadsheets and document files, all have been documented to contain virus files. Many of the most dangerous viruses are primarily spread through e-mail attachments.

7. One simple way to avoid infections Obtain software from reputable sources. Downloading a service pack for Windows NT from Microsoft’s web site is a very different proposition than downloading a freeware disk utility from a company you’ve never heard of, on a site in a province of the former Soviet Union. You use common sense – for instance, beware of Automatic Downloads – take care when using programs that download and run update patches and programs automatically. While in most cases these will not be a problem, having downloaded software run automatically without virus checking exposes you to potential problems in my opinion. Regardless of where you get your software even shrink-wrapped CDs from a reputable supplier, ALWAYS scan it for viruses BEFORE you execute the program or installer.

8. A second simple way to avoid infections Control your network connections and access to your computer. You could limit access just to those who have a need – fully 80%% of damage caused to information systems is caused by action taken (either accidental or deliberate) by an employee or friend, and not from outside sources.

9. Be safe rather than sorry Make sure you have backups for all your files. Backups are essential not only to safely recover from virus infections, but also to recover from the other threats to your data (such as a hard disk failure or a major coffee spilling accident).

10. Use quality virus protection software Last, but certainly not least, use good quality market leading commercial virus protection software packages. The primary benefit of using top commercial software is the frequency and ease of updating the virus definition files that these programs use to detect viruses. With new viruses popping up all the time, unless your protection software is kept updated (daily and automatically), you become ever more vulnerable to infection.

To learn more about effective, easy to afford and use PC protection tools, visit


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