Computer Viruses and How to Protect Yourself

Computer viruses are malicious programs that cause harm to your computer and steal your personal information and data. The best way to protect your computer from viruses is to use antivirus software.

Computer viruses are often transmitted over the network like the Internet. They spread through:

  • Software problems in computer systems and applications
  • Email attachments that have been infected
  • USB sticks that contain virus-infected files

Computer viruses are dangerous because they can damage your computer and make it unusable, as well as steal your data and personal information.

Recovering from a computer virus is a long and painful process, and does not always work. Sometimes you have to re-install your entire computer, including software programs, and recover you data from backups.

The best defense against computer viruses is to avoid getting infected by using quality antivirus software.

Modern computer viruses are classified under malware, or malicious software. Viruses used to be the main software computer security threat, but today there is other malicious software including scareware, ransomware and Trojans.

What Do Computer Viruses Do?

Computer viruses are malicious software programs.

Viruses Do Damage

Traditionally, computer viruses caused damage to your computer. They would often render the computer unusable by deleting or damaging important operating system services and files.

People wrote and released viruses to take down computers and computer networks. Really bad computer viruses could badly damage computers, often requiring a complete system re-install.

Getting a vicious computer virus can cause serious work and life disruption. You could be without your computer and data for days, and you may need to restore your data from backups.

Viruses Spread

Computer viruses multiply and spread.

They spread quickly as they try to infect as many computers as possible. They can also infect any external USB drives connected to your computer.

In a corporate environment, viruses like to spread through shared network drives that are connected to everyone's computers.

This way they do not need to attack computers directly - they infect the files on the network drives, and when other people access those files their computers get infected as well.

Viruses Steal Data

Modern computer viruses focus on stealing your personal information and data.

Because the online world enables us to perform important yet repetitive tasks - like paying bills - in an easy and automated way, the cyber criminals have switched from causing damage to stealing information.

Stealing personal information is a lucrative business. Cyber thieves can sell it, or use it themselves to steal money.

It is much easier to steal information and money on the Internet than it is to rob a bank with a gun.

How Do You Get Infected?

There are a few ways your computer can get infected with a computer virus:

Software Bugs

All software has defects, called bugs. There are all kinds of software bugs, including security bugs.

Operating system (Windows, Mac) security bugs are especially dangerous.

Cyber criminals specialize in finding and exploiting software bugs. After they locate a bug, they write a malicious program – a virus – to get inside your computer.

This is why you should always keep your computer up-to-date.

Bad Email Attachment

Cyber thieves send out emails that look legitimate and have an attachment that carries a computer virus. When you open such an email, and click on the attachment, your computer gets infected.

They are getting very good at this. Sometimes you have to look very carefully to notice that a legitimate-looking email is actually only pretending to be real.

Never click on attachments in fake emails. Delete such emails immediately.

Be careful, and do not click on emails in a rush. Always ask yourself, is this a type of email that this person would send me?

If an email looks like it might be from your friend or colleague, pick up the phone and call them, or write them a new email and ask if they really sent this one.

If you don't know the person who sent you the email, and it is not obvious what they want, delete it.

Infected USB Stick

You can get a computer virus by using an infected USB stick.

As soon as you plug in a USB stick that has a virus, your computer will get infected.

Maybe you used your USB stick to connect it to another computer, and that is how the stick itself got infected. When you came home and plugged it into your own computer, you picked up a virus.

It could even be a USB stick that was given to you by a friend, who was unaware that the stick was infected with a virus.

Always configure your computer antivirus software to automatically scan any USB sticks that you connect to your computer.

How Do You Protect Yourself?

The best way to protect your computer from viruses is to use antivirus software.

Antivirus software runs on your computer, in the background, and constantly looks for files infected with viruses. When it catches a virus-infected file, it puts it in a quarantine. You can look at quarantined files and decide if you want to delete them.

If you are sure that the quarantined files are viruses, have the antivirus software delete them. There is no reason to take additional risks by harnessing computer viruses on your computer.

Stay alert, and don't open email attachments that you are not sure are legitimate. Do not plug other people's USB sticks into your computer, and configure your antivirus software to automatically scan all USB sticks.