Ask Tech Effect: What Is A Virus?
There’s a lot of talk about Internet security and how important it is to make sure that your security stays up to date and is impervious to outside threats.
The problem is that you rarely encounter these “threats” and it isn’t always apparent what they can do to you or your company. At the same time, these threats can have devastating consequences, as seen with companies such as Target or the Ashley Madison scandal.
A disaster like Ashley Madison’s could ruin any company for the rest of its life. So being paranoid about computer threats is not a foolish way of thinking.
But at the same time, if you never encounter a threat, how will you know how to stop it?
While new threats are being created every year, thankfully so are the ways to stop them.
There’s one threat that people have been consistently been falling prey to, and those are computer viruses.
You’ve heard of computer viruses before, mainly because you may have been hit by one in the past.
Being affected by a virus is how you also knew how to get rid of it, thanks to the wonders of anti-virus programs.
But what exactly is a computer virus? How was it able to infect your computer in the first place?
By understanding what a computer virus is, how it gets into your computer and why it’s so important to protect yourself, we have a better chance of making sure it never happens to us, or at least prevent an attack from becoming devastating.
So What Is A Computer Virus?
First, let’s backtrack a little to find out why we call computer viruses “viruses”.
As you know, biological viruses are organisms that cannot survive on their own, but survive inside of a host and replicate. There is a chance that the virus carries a disease, which then replicates inside of us and makes us sick.
Computer viruses work the same way, thus the term.
They are actually files in a computer that are programmed to do something (usually not good). Without a way to reach another computer, they are not very useful files.
However, if they are able to reach another computer, through ways of transmission that we will talk about later, they carry out a specific purpose which is almost always a bad thing for your computer.
For instance, you may get annoying advertisements or your computer might run slower.
In more serious cases, you may see some of your information stolen or your computer might be unable to function properly.
Viruses are generally NOT a good thing for your computer, so you need to treat any virus alert on your computer as a serious threat.
Are There Many Different Kinds Of Viruses?
Viruses can also be known as a worm. Their purpose is no different from that of a general virus.
Viruses have many different functions. They are just files that are configured to do something special when they are activated in a computer.
Most are just created to be annoying, and you may have seen many of these in your personal life.
Viruses created to hack into company databases are a serious threat, which can jeopardize a company’s operations if it isn’t detected and dealt with.
Viruses also have different names based on their purpose and sometimes the way they enter your computer.
A Trojan horse virus, for example, is a seemingly normal file that appears to be harmless to your computer, but once activated, it will spread a virus throughout your computer.
The Cryptolocker virus, on the other hand, is downloaded onto your computer and then immediately locks up some of your files, which leads to ransom attempts where you have to pay the virus’s owner in order to get your files back.
Almost all viruses, however, are harmful to your computer and should not be allowed in.
How Can I Stop Viruses From Getting Into My Computer?
Viruses have many ways of getting into your computer, and almost all of these are done without you knowing.
Viruses tend to be found on files that you download from suspicious areas, such as peer-to-peer networks or unsecured websites.
They may also be sent through emails that you receive from spam or friends who might have also been infected.
You can tell the files are suspicious when the names are phrased in a way you can’t understand, and if you don’t remember the link or the event that you supposedly went to.
If you do not trust the source, do not click on the link or visit the website listed.
Viruses can get through to your computer through the cookies in a website (the information you download whenever you visit a website) so refusing cookies or browsing through your Internet browser’s private setting.
If a file looks suspicious, anti-virus software comes with a prevention setting that can screen out suspicious files and “quarantine” them before they can do any harm to your computer.
Your computer’s firewall settings can also help block out suspicious files from suspicious networks before you download any files.
What Happens When A Virus Infects My Computer?
You will usually know when a virus hits your computer because there will be something you don’t expect.
You might be seeing a lot of advertisements or your computer performance will experience a large reduction in speed.
Files might be inaccessible and less-than-appropriate images will be appearing in places you were not expecting.
In the worst case scenario, your computer will crash and any other computer on the network will be infected as well.
You might also know that a virus has infected your computer if people on your network and/or your friends are telling you that you are sending out suspicious links.
If you are working in a company, you might notice that there are some extra files that someone has added, or a notice in your company that some files have suddenly become inaccessible.
Those are the warning signs that show something is wrong.
At this point, the virus is running loose on your system and you need to stop it.
What Can I Do To Stop A Virus?
First, if you are on a network with other computers, find some way to take yourself off the network. Your IT department can help you do this.
You need to stop the virus from spreading to other people as soon as you can, or there could be serious consequences.
Then evaluate what the problem is. Not all viruses are devastating to companies; some viruses are just silly pranks. Other viruses can delete all of your files, so knowing what just happened is important for the recovery portion.
Next, call your IT department. Without an IT department, you will need to run anti-virus software yourself.
Your IT department will be able to carry out the necessary procedures for an anti-virus software process, but otherwise you can use your own settings.
Depending on the amount of files you have, the type of sweep that you do, and the severity of the problem, the anti-virus software will scan your system for some time, then remove the virus (if possible) and then close off your system.
If the virus can’t be removed, you may need to seek outside technical assistance. If you have an IT department, they will work on removing the virus for you.
Don’t leave the virus on your computer; there are serious consequences for a failure to remove a virus.
If necessary, do a system restore (a lengthy process but it resets your computer to its default settings). It’s a drastic measure, but a virus can cause bigger problems.
How To Make Sure This Doesn’t Happen Again
Prevention is the best measure for keeping your computer safe. So if your computer recovers, it’s best to make sure this never happens again.
First, get some reliable anti-virus software. Brand names such as AVG Anti-Virus, Norton, Malwarebytes and others should be installed on your computer.
Microsoft also has Windows Defender, their own in-built anti-virus system included on every Windows computer.
Keeping your anti-virus software up to date is what helps the software detect new viruses that could harm your computer and/or network.
Software companies always recommend upgrading your software to its most recent version, which includes security updates that are protected from virus attacks.
Avoid clicking on links that come from sources you are not sure exist, and also avoid visiting websites that are suspicious or those that have security concerns that your Internet browser will warn you about.
Download files only from sources that you trust, and do your best not to download files from questionable sources if you can help it.
Virus prevention has always been a strict point with IT security, and companies are wanting to make sure it doesn’t happen to them.
If you don’t know too much about security, it’s worth putting your security in the hands of an IT company, because it could cost you if you think it will never happen to you.
You always want to be prepared for threats, because no company in this world is immune to them.
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