Computer viruses are an interesting thing and as much as we all hate them you can't deny how well-bred these beasts have become. They can do an amazing amount of damage in a very short time showing us how destructive the nature of human beings as a race can be. However, computer viruses can take years to engineer and with their ability to spread at alarming rates undetected through the most sophisticated prevention systems demonstrates just how complex the human mind has become.
Some of the most well known and most destructive virus's shutdown massive corporations until the virus could be contained. The ILOVEYOU virus erupted in the year 2000 and forced companies like Microsoft to shut down all of their email servers, an amazing feat considering the simplicity of the virus.
I wanted to take a moment to discuss some of the types of viruses and some of the things you can do to better protect yourself by becoming a better decision maker when using technology like email and internet.
A virus by definition is a small piece of computer code that embeds itself to what would otherwise be a safe program. They are called viruses because the spread just like a biological virus would and just like a living virus, a computer virus needs a host to live off of. Also, like viruses, computer viruses are very small in comparison to software programs. A common piece of software that could get infected would be your Internet Explorer web browser. When the browser is infected, every time you launch it the virus is launched to and does its dirty work. A virus's purpose of existence is to spread to as many computers as possible as fast as possible. Once the virus as infected as many computers as it can, systems begin to fail like security systems and a possible hacker can make his move.
A worm is another type of virus that utilizes security flaws (holes) in a piece of software or an operating system to exploit. Once a system is infected, the worm scans the network for other available host who also disclose the security hole so that it can replicate itself. Worms can spread very fast. For example, the Code Red worm replicated itself over 250,000 times in about nine hours in the summer of 2001. The destructive nature of a worm is to spread as fast as it can and cause congestion on networks bringing it to a stop - just like many living worms on earth!
Another common virus seen is called a Trojan horse. As you may imagine, this virus gets its name from the tale of the Trojan War when the Greeks pretended to sail away but instead hid inside a wooden horse outside the gates of Troy. The Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy allowing the Greeks passed the city walls and eventually taking over Troy. A computer Trojan horse also disguises its self to trick a user into letting it into their computer. It may be hiding in a game or media file you download from the internet, or it may be a software program for school or work. Once the file is downloaded and executed, the virus is let free into your system.
Finally there is the email virus which is simply a virus spread via email. This type of virus will email hide in an email and when the recipient opens their email it will infect their system and then resend itself to other people who are in the recipient address book. The virus will send messages over and over trying different types of messages to coax someone to open it.
There are several steps someone can take to prevent these types of viruses.
The first line of defense it to keep your system up to date. May users do not take the time or simply ignore update their software. Many of the updates that software venders are security fixes. The longer you wait to update your computer the better chance you have of getting a computer virus.
Antivirus software can also be very helpful. These types of programs dedicate themselves to protecting user's computers and personal information. Some are free and some charge a one -time fee and possibly even a monthly fee. The best antivirus software to use is debatable and beyond the scope of this article. However, any antivirus is probably better than none.
Use common sense. If something looks off or too good to be true it normally is. Don't open emails or download files sent from people you don't know. Read messages that your computer prompts you with instead of just clicking "Continue" because it closes the window.
Finally, educate yourself on general internet safety. A few moments of your time may keep your financial and personal well being safe.
About the Author
Cory Clough is a web programmer and developer for many first class websites and has worked on several high profile projects. He enjoys playing guitar and the outdoors.