Computer viruses are crippling on any PC. A well-designed virus can have a devastating effect on a company or the person who downloads it, leading to billions of dollars in damages if it spreads far enough.
Viruses can be very hard to contain and can infect millions of computers in a single day, thus illustrating how connected (and vulnerable!) the world wide web has made each and every one of us.
Types of Computer Viruses
There are multiple types of viruses that can interfere with your computer security. Some of the most common viruses that you may encounter include:
- Email viruses – these are a specialized form of computer virus that comes attached to an email. It can then mail itself to everyone in your address book. You may not even have to open the attachment to become infected by the virus, as some are designed to start infiltrating your computer’s security as soon as the infected message is read.
- Trojan horses – this is a computer program that claims to perform one task but instead employs alternative actions resulting in damage to your computer or your files. It cannot replicate on its own and requires you to download and run it.
- Viruses – this is a small piece of software that sneaks in along with another program, such as a spreadsheet. When the real program runs, then virus also runs, giving it the chance to do the damage it was programmed to do or reproduce and spread.
- Worms – worms are a type of software that looks for security holes in computer networks, spreading from one computer to another if they have the same security hole. It can copy itself and then spread from the new computer to the next.
Where Viruses Come From
The term ‘computer virus’ comes from the fact that it spreads in a similar fashion to the biological variety. They can be passed from one computer to another much like the common cold virus is passed from one person to another. A virus cannot reproduce itself. A computer virus must come in on another program or document in order to be able to affect your computer.
People write computer viruses, test them, and then release them. The reasons why can vary. Some people get a thrill out of being destructive, much in how vandals destroy someone else’s property. Others like the thrill of watching things blow up; such as those who make their own bombs or who enjoy watching car wrecks. And others do it simply for the bragging rights, and see the creation of a virus as a challenge that must be met before someone else beats you to it. Most of the virus creators do not seem to realize or care about the people who are harmed by their creations.
The History and Evolution of Computer Viruses
Computer viruses first started to come out in the late 1980s, as the personal computer started to become more widely used. At this time computer bulletin boards were also becoming popular, allowing people to download different programs like games and simple software. This started the creation of the Trojan horse, a hostile program.
The earliest viruses were small, and were attached to popular games and programs. When the person ran the program, the virus would load itself, modifying additional programs to include its code, and then launched the real program. The user often didn’t even realize that the virus had run itself, and would spread it from one computer to the next when they shared programs and viruses. From there the virus would enter an attack phase, where they would do something destructive like cause your computer screen to light up with a silly message or erasing all of your data.
As computers evolved, so did viruses. As floppy disks fell out of favor, virus creators learned new tricks for spreading them. This led to the creation of email viruses, which were spread through email attachments and worms, which could copy themselves from one machine to another by taking advantage of a security hole.
Protecting Your Computer from Viruses
There are several ways that you can protect your computer’s security from viruses and other malware. A secure operating system is often the front line. Further to this method, you should install virus protection software to help prevent viruses from making their way onto your computer. You should also avoid downloads from unknown sources, as well as install computer updates on a regular basis. The more conscious you are of computer viruses, the easier it will be to protect yourself from them!