Understand Computer Viruses: What They Are and How to Get Rid of Them

Padlock and laptop

When most of us think of a virus, we typically think of a microscopic organism that negatively affects our health. In the world of computers, a virus is a similar concept. When thinking about human viruses, there are some that live dormant in our bodies for years, such as the shingles virus, and these viruses are triggered by some event. Computer viruses do the same thing, and they can live for weeks, months, or even years within your system, and they will come to life when certain requirements are met.

Other viruses, however, are simply activated as soon as they are downloaded, and they start compromising the system.

Computer viruses are not only a headache, they can also cause a lot of devastation, such as when they are responsible for identity theft. In most cases, those who become victims of identity theft have opened up their computer to hackers by downloading a virus. This might occur due to clicking on an email link, visiting a website, or even downloading music or a game that is infected. Once the computer is hacked, a hacker might be controlling it from across the globe and can view files at any time. 

Once a hacker has gained access to a computer, they might log keystrokes, have a record of websites that the victim has visited, and gain access to the usernames and passwords that they type on the keyboard. In addition to this, as long as the following data is on the device, the hacker also has access to the victim’s personal information such as address, name, phone number, birthdate, and of course, Social Security number.

This gives the hacker all they need to steal their victim’s identity.

How to Keep Your Computer in Optimal Health

We maintain our own health by taking care of our bodies. We should eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest. People should do the same for their computers. In this case, however, they should avoid any action that might put their computer at risk, such as downloading videos or games from sketchy sites, visiting dangerous websites, or clicking on links that you aren’t familiar with.

This also means that the computer should be secure with software, such as anti-spyware and antivirus programs, and that the internet connection is as secure as possible.

What a Virus Does to a Computer

A virus can do many things to a computer, and this has evolved over time. In the late 1990s, for instance, the main thing that a computer virus did was to wreak havoc on the machine. They would delete files, cause the computer to crash, and even scroll profanity over the screen.

By the middle of the 2000s, however, viruses became more sophisticated, which allowed the creators and operators of the viruses to access the computers remotely. They could also take screenshots, log keystrokes, and monitor all of the user’s activity. These viruses allowed hackers to collect all of the information they needed to access the victim’s accounts.

How Do Computers Get Viruses?

There are several ways that a computer can get a virus, which means owners of these machines must utilize different ways to protect themselves. For instance, if you don’t update the security patches for the computer operating system, a virus can easily get through. The same thing can occur if you don’t update your internet browser when prompted.

Additionally, you might open an email attachment that contains a virus, click on a link that automatically downloads the virus, or even share files that will download the virus.

A “Drive-By Download” Could Happen to You

Have you heard of a “drive-by-download?” This is a term that describes an unintentional download of malware or a virus onto a computer. This often occurs because the person downloading the file intentionally downloads another program, and the malicious program is attached. It can also occur if you click a link, either in an email or on a website, that has a virus attached. Finally, you might simply just visit a website that contains viruses, which will start to infect your computer.

These particular downloads start to work by finding the vulnerabilities in a web browser and then exploiting it.

The download might also exploit plug-ins or other features of a browser. These downloads might appear in a number of places on the web, and most of the time, they are unrecognizable by the average person. For instance, you might be innocently browsing, and then find that your computer starts acting weird. It’s likely that you have somehow received a “drive-by download.” The site you are on might have actually been set up by a cybercriminal simply to infect the computers of innocent people. It could also be a site that is fully legitimate, but that has become compromised by a cybercriminal.

These downloads are also distributed through networks for advertising. For instance, in 2009, the famed New York Times ran an advertisement for an antivirus software that was totally bogus. Once people clicked on the ad, they were inundated with pop-ups that asked for credit card information.

Social Networking and Security Risks

There are security issues associated with social media sites, too. These include brand hijacking, identity thefts, online reputation management, compromised privacy, and even physical security. One of the easiest ways for a criminal to access a company’s network is often through social media. These websites have grown too large, too quickly, and in many cases, users simply do not keep up with the recommended security precautions.

Additionally, social media gives a criminal the opportunity to friend their victims, which helps to create a sense of “trust” between the victim and the criminal. Criminals know exactly how to take advantage of their “friends,” and they will do things such as phishing or use other scams to get information or even money from these people.

Wardriving? What Is This?

The term wardriving refers to a search for random wireless internet access. People do this by driving through office parks, neighborhoods, and other populated areas seeking out an unsecured connection. This is dangerous, as when a criminal succeeds in finding an open connection, they can access the data packets floating in the air and in some cases access the hard drive of an innocent victim. Once they have this, they can search the computers for data, use the wireless connection for evil purposes, and install viruses.

Are There Good Viruses?

When most of us see the word “virus,” we understand that there is an issue of some kind. When it comes to computer viruses, they can be categorized according to its threat level. This refers to how damaging the virus is. Some of these viruses are simply created to annoy the victim and others will allow a person to steal the identity of the victim. There is no such thing as a good virus, though some of them are less dangerous than others.

Your Computer Should Tell You When It’s Sick

If you have a computer that is running a solid, updated antivirus program, it should first prevent or reactively inform you if there is a virus on the machine. It will even alert you if you are about to download one. It is very important that you leave the default settings or schedule your antivirus software to scan the computer and to download updates to the program. The program should also recognize any attempt of a virus to infect the computer, but there are also new viruses that pop up all of the time. It takes a bit of time to update the definitions, but once the program is updated, it should find any virus.

A good program will quarantine the viruses it finds, and once the virus is caught, it will be quarantined or the program will ask you what you want to do. You can choose to delete it immediately, for instance, or you can run other scans on it. There might even be some instances where the antivirus program will think a legitimate program is a virus. When this happens, you will have the option to restore any file that is quarantined.

How to Best Remove a Virus From a Computer

Most security software suites have instructions for quarantining or removing malicious programs or viruses. If you use Windows, for instance, Microsoft has tools that help users remove malware. It also offers basic antivirus protection. Here are some steps to take to ensure your computer is virus-free:

  • Scan your computer for viruses on a regular basis. You should also check any other machine that accesses your network. Experts recommend that you should schedule deep scans a minimum of once each week, but it is best to automatically do a quick scan each day, when possible.
  • Set your antivirus program to automatically download any updates to the software. If you don’t do this, make sure to manually update the software each day.
  • Set your email software to alert you before you download any pictures or files. If possible, try to set your email to display only text, and to ask you before it starts to download any links or photos.
  • Do not click on any link to download files that come from an email address you are not familiar with. If you wish to click on a link from a recipient you do not know, access the website through the bookmarks, browse for the page through a search engine, or type the address into the address bar of your browser, manually.

Technology does not have to be frightening or overwhelm you. However, it does require you to be aware of your cyber intelligence when it comes to security. Keep in mind, the bad guys are always using different techniques to hack data and obtain information. Instead, you should be proactive and keep your security and antivirus software up to date to keep you and your machine, safe.