7 Things You Should Know About Computer Viruses

While not the most widespread or impactful anymore, computer viruses are the most ubiquitous cyber threat. Everyone knows they’re harmful, but what makes viruses tick? How do they spread, and what can you do to keep them at bay? Our seven interesting virus facts will set you on the right track.

Their Definition Has Changed over the Years

Viruses have been around since the punch card days. Malware – any kind of malicious code that harms others – wasn’t as well defined or diverse until the start of the millennium, so the first viruses wouldn’t be called that by today’s standard.

Viruses are malicious programs designed to infect a system. The code makes copies of itself, bogging down the system and eventually spreading to other connected devices like USB sticks or computers on the same network.

They Need a Trigger to Work

The first viruses had a set of instructions to begin infection automatically. We’d classify such malware as worms now. Viruses, in the modern sense, are distinct since they activate only when triggered. Triggers include connecting unknown storage drives, downloading and running software from the internet, or going to malicious websites.

Most Spread via Email

Viruses became infamous several decades ago with the spread of ILOVEYOU. The bug managed to infect around 10% of computers worldwide and cause billions in damages. The email it replicated couldn’t cause harm directly, but people were too curious to click on the attachment. ILOVEYOU is an early example of social engineering, which continues to be an effective cybersecurity threat.

They Can Do a Lot of Harm

Having the same MO doesn’t mean viruses need to have other traits in common. Some are harmless and will only give you a scare. Others may tamper with your files, bog down the device, or delete core system files that make the infected device unusable. A complete disk wipe and OS reinstallation is the most drastic solution for such threats, but it’s often the only effective option.

They Make Their Presence Known

Never-ending replication is at the core of virus behavior. It also makes detecting them easier. Constant duplicating takes a toll on system resources, so slowdowns and processes that hog the RAM or disk are telltale signs of an infection.

They’re not the only ones, though. Some viruses will do damage by installing and running unsafe applications. Others will cause your browser to turn on unexpectedly, leading to sites that harbor even more malicious content.

Even though they can be stealthy, you’ll notice a virus infection more often than not.

You Can Do Much to Protect Yourself from Viruses

While computer viruses are threats worth taking seriously, a proactive approach coupled with some basic cybersecurity skills will usually be enough to keep you safe. Here’s what to focus on:
Upgrade & maintain your defenses

Antivirus programs have been around for decades and continue to be a cornerstone of complete system protection. Thousands of new viruses emerge daily, and incorporating AI into their creation means your antivirus software needs to always be up to date, as does your operating system, email client, and any other software that could aid in spreading the virus.

Investing in a VPN, in contrast to antivirus, is another effective countermeasure. On the one hand, VPNs protect your internet connection by encrypting it and masking your IP address. This makes snooping and targeted malware attacks impossible. On the other, some VPNs offer antimalware features and will block you from accessing sites known to contain viruses & other threats.

Back your files up

Having the best defenses you can isn’t a guarantee against all virus attacks. You’ll want to maintain backups of important files in case some do make it through. Keep one copy on a physical drive, preferably an external one without an internet connection. You can also use cloud storage for convenience and easier access from anywhere.

Get your passwords in order

Hackers who manage to take control of your system will likely also gain access to your passwords, especially if you fill them in automatically. Even if you don’t, a single exposed password is enough to affect several important accounts if you keep reusing it.

While they don’t offer direct protection, password managers minimize the damage viruses can do. It’s easy to set up a unique password for any number of accounts, and you can access the manager’s encrypted vault from any device. More advanced versions incorporate two-factor authentication, further shielding accounts from takeovers.

Creating Viruses Isn’t Illegal

You read that right – merely writing a virus program won’t get you in trouble with the law. Of course, this applies only if you do so for educational purposes and keep the virus contained to the computer you made it on.

Things take a more serious turn if you try to sell the virus or infect other machines with it. Depending on the consequences, such actions can cost you ten years of prison time and a hefty sum. More if it isn’t your first offense or if the fallout is particularly bad.

Leave a Comment