About Computer Viruses

By: Eduardo R. Zayas-Quiñones

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What is a computer virus?

A computer virus is a program that attaches copies of itself to other programs to perform functions other than those for which these were intended. Suppose that one of the programs on your computer, say your word processing application gets infected by a computer virus. When you run the application, the virus starts running too and would very likely find and attach itself to other programs on your computer - even attaching itself to your computer disk drive's boot sector springing into action every time you boot-up your PC.

What can viruses do?

Viruses can do, just about anything the writer intends them to. This can be something as silly as popping-up a window and displaying a little annoying message every once in a while on your computer or cause something as devastating as modifying information on your computer system beyond recovery.

Here are some common mistakes people make which result frequently in computer virus infections and in some cases complete loss of the programs and information stored on their computers:

1. Not having computer virus protection software installed and running on their computer. If you do not have virus software installed on your machine, your computer is at great risk of being infected.

2. They had a virus program installed but did not update their virus definitions regularly. New viruses are made every day. In order for your anti-virusprogram to detect them, it must have a definition of the new virus - otherwise, it may not recognize it and allow it to enter through your computer's front door.

3. Downloading programs from unknown websites on the Internet. Many people enjoy surfing the Internet, visiting websites that offer free donwloads like games and other interesting programs. In many cases these programs have been known to be infected with computer viruses.

4. Opening attachments on suspicious emails. This is one of the most effective ways through which computer viruses spread - emails from known or unknown senders with suspicious subjects or content. In many cases, these emails will prompt you to open an attachment or click on a link within the message. Doing either of these will cause the virus to spring into action and infect your computer.

How to get computer virus protection:

The only way to effectively protect yourself from computer viruses is by installing antivirus software on your computer and by making sure you keep your antivirus software and virus definitions updated. Not having antivirus software installed on your computer, especially if you are a micro or small business owner is inexcusable. There are several excellent virus protection products on the market and some companies provide free antivirus software downloads.

Here are some common sense, best practices to protect your computer from computer viruses and an antivirus software comparison:

1. Purchase and install computer virus protection software your computer. Several anti-virus products are available in the market - I have compiled a list of well-known vendors, descriptions of their products and their links. I encourage you to visit these to help you determine which product best meets your needs.

2. If your virus detection program does not have the capability to download up-to-date virus definitions then you must download them from your vendor's website on a regular basis. I strongly recommend that you do this at the very least once per week. Think of a computer virus definition as an "all points bulletin" for a wanted criminal or escaped convict, containig a description of the wanted individual. In the same fashion, a virus definition file provides a description of the characteristics of a virus for you virus detection program.

3. Do not open attachments on emails originating from unknown sources.

4. Be very cautious when downloading programs from Internet sites. Download software ONLY from reputable and well known sites.

Author's recommendation:

I've owned both McAfee and Norton products over the past 10 years and had opportunity to see both of these deployed and at work in large government and commercial organizations. Just a couple of weeks ago I had opportunity to help our neighbors get rid of a nasty virus on their PC. I used McAfee to get rid of their virus - the couple of hours it took to install the application and eradicate the virus were a small time investment. They now have better protection since McAfee is installed on their computer and they are downloading virus definitions regularly. I have also used these products for at least 10 years in my home computers and these days to protect our business PCs as well. I presently use Norton Internet Security 2006. All of these are excellent products, just take a little time to compare their features and price.

I hope you found the content of this page useful.

Ed Zayas


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