When unsuspected computer users become victim of a computer virus attack and big damage has been done, it’s just logical that they have questions. People want to know why it happened to them and what they did to deserve this. Why do computer viruses even exist? Here are some answers to often asked questions about computer viruses, including where they come from and most importantly, how you can protect yourself from them.
WHAT IS A COMPUTER VIRUS?
A computer virus is a type of software that has the ability to make copies of itself and can spread from one computer to the next, “infecting” them like a real flu virus. By definition, a computer virus mustn’t necessarily do damage. Some early computer viruses from the 1970s and 1980s were indeed not destructive, they were designed as pranks or nerds wrote them as a way to show off their technical expertise.
At some point however, cyber criminals discovered computer viruses and how they can use them for their own, dark purposes. This is why today, when we’re talking about computer viruses, they are almost always harmful in one or the other way. Although there may still be some harmless types of viruses around that only annoy with popup ads, many more computer viruses exist that cause serious damage that can range from destroying computer data to stealing private information for identity theft and other crimes. Some outbreaks of single computer viruses in the recent years have caused tens of billions of dollars in damages by infecting and disabling computer systems of people, businesses and organizations.
WHERE DO COMPUTER VIRUSES COME FROM?
Saying “someone wrote them” is probably not the most helpful answer. Nevertheless it is accurate since computer viruses don’t just appear by themselves out from the depths of the internet. The question here is why someone did create a computer virus in the first place. And as we already hinted at earlier, there can be several reasons for this. By and large, modern computer viruses are created by cyber criminals who have malicious intent.
In previous times, computer viruses came from and were spread via floppy disks. Ever since the advent of the internet, the vast majority of computer viruses now come from there since this is the fastest and most effective way they can spread. A virus can be attached to an unsuspicious appearing software program that you download from somewhere, it can come from an infected website you visit and it can come in emails and even instant messages. In other words, you can never know when there is a danger of getting infected with a computer virus since it can happen any time.
WHAT ARE COMPUTER VIRUSES USED FOR?
It didn’t take long since the first viruses appeared on the scene decades ago when fraudsters discovered their potential for malicious purposes. In a time where increasingly more people and businesses work with computers and are connected to the internet, a computer virus seemed like the perfect way to commit all types of dark activities, ranging from data theft and spamming, to gaining control of computers, spying on or damaging businesses along with many other evil purposes.
With computer viruses, cyber criminals can attack large numbers of computers and they can do so very effectively and most importantly anonymously.
Let us look at some typical examples of how viruses are used.
Many viruses are designed to spy on your personal data. They may invisibly run in the background on your computer and monitor and record everything you do. The aim of the criminals is to get your personal data, like your logins and passwords, banking account information and credit card numbers. The virus is then sending this data over the internet where a criminal collects this information and can use it to steal money or to commit identity theft. Needless to say that such viruses are a big risk and that they can cause massive financial damages.
Some viruses that infiltrate computer systems can make the infected computer work for the cyber criminals. In case your computer becomes infected, it may start sending out emails to infect other computers without your knowledge. They could also use your computer for activities like hacking or DDoS attacks or for committing activities such as adclick fraud. It is not uncommon that a single virus outbreak can result in thousands of computers worldwide being infected where these computers form what is called a “botnet”, a large number of computers that are under control by criminals for whatever malicious purposes.
HOW TO I PROTECT MYSELF FROM COMPUTER VIRUSES?
There are several things that you can do to reduce your risk for a virus infection.
The first thing you should do is that you make sure that your operating system and web browser is always up-to-date and that you are using the latest versions. Many older operating systems and web browsers may contain unfixed exploits and security holes that are taken advantage of by viruses. Some of the most damaging virus outbreaks in the past are because of these types of exploits.
If you have a modern operating system like Windows 8 or Windows 10, make sure that you use the built-in firewall feature. Using a personal firewall can add an extra layer of security to your computer because it will prevent unauthorized access either from or to your computer.
Most importantly, get a reliable and proven antivirus protection software. Even the latest operating systems cannot give you full protection from today’s online threats that not only include viruses, but also spyware, Trojans and many more types of malicious software and attacks. A modern antivirus protection software is your best insurance against virus attacks!