What Do Viruses Actually Do?

These are the simple facts… We all know that a computer virus is a bad thing, and a Trojan doesn’t do much good, either. Malware is another word most people are familiar with which sounds negative. But what exactly are all of these? And what do they do? Here’s our simple guide to the things which are looking to harm your computer and steal information for crooks.
There’s always stuff about cyber-security in the news, but it all seems like it doesn’t really affect us, somehow. Let’s look at the sorts of viruses, malware and other devious things. We’ll tell you what they do and how they work – but most importantly how you can beat them!

What is Malware?

The term Malware – a combination of ‘Malicious’ and ‘Software’ – refers to all software designed to harm your PC or steal your information. Viruses, worms and trojans are all types of malware. One thing to bear in mind is that a file or program must be malicious in intent to be considered malware.

What is a Virus?

A virus is a program designed to spread from file to file and PC to PC when files are shared, though they often vary a lot in terms of spread, harm and intent. Most viruses are attached to executable files (.exe) so watch out for these – it’s a sure sign of a virus.

Similar to a biological virus, computer viruses quickly spread from one file to another, and can infect other PCs when files are copied or shared. When viruses are in your computer, they often slow it down as well as cause lots of other issues. Some viruses are specifically designed to grow , whilst others contain malicious code which affects your files and operating system. It’s even possible that they can prevent your PC from booting at all.

However, viruses can only spread with action from a user, such as downloading infected files or running the program manually. Many viruses are attached to executable files as users are more likely to run them, which will unleash the virus in their computer.

By double-checking all files coming into your computer (by email, downloads and otherwise) you can avoid most of the viruses out there, though other precautions may be necessary. Make sure that all the files you download or install are from trusted sources, and use the latest anti-virus software to best protect yourself and your computer. Don’t be tempted to click on something which seems too good to be true.

What is a Worm?

Worms can replicate themselves and cause major damage to your computer. Unlike viruses, worms can actually replicate themselves and spread without you actually doing anything to assist them. This makes them so much harder to track and fight.

Computer worms use networks to replicate themselves across multiple PCs, often using a security hole to ‘tunnel’ to travel from one host to another without user intervention. Because they spread rapidly across networks (sometimes without users even noticing), worms are extremely dangerous, and one effect is that they can cause millions in financial damages.
Because computer worms are mainly network-based, strong antivirus software and firewalls are needed to protect against them, as well as user caution when downloading attachments or clicking links.

What is a Trojan?

The old legend has it that a Trojan Horse was used to secretly transport armed soldiers into the mythical city of Troy. That’s where the name ‘Trojan’ comes from. In the computer age, the aim of a trojan is to cause damage or create a backdoor to your computer that allows it to be controlled remotely. Trojans usually appear to be beneficial, but they will harm your device and steal information such as passwords and bank details.

A Trojan cannot spread like a virus and they require users to install or download them manually. You think you’re installing a useful tool, but you’re secretly installing a trojan! Often, they pose as a free program, or are sent directly. They look totally innocent, but they’re not. Once your PC has been infected with a Trojan, it may be used for nefarious purposes by a hacker, or damaged by the trojan.

Whatever the nature of the trojan, you can mitigate against them with the same protective measures you might use against virus. Ensure that your antivirus software is up to date, don’t open suspicious files and only download files from trustworthy sources. And don’t forget that viruses can infiltrate your smart devices too!

What is Spyware?

Spyware, as the name might suggest, is intended to spy on your computer, collecting data such as your passwords, browsing habits and sensitive information. Unlike other types of malware, spyware doesn’t directly harm you or your computer and is often intended to spy quietly in the background to gather data covertly for longer.

Because of spywares covert nature, many people who have been infected aren’t aware of it! Also, not all antivirus software is designed to catch spyware, so check with the seller to ensure that it can protect against all types of malware.

The one thing you have to remember is to follow your instinct and use common sense as your guide. Always be cautious about what you ‘let in’ to your computer. An effective anti-virus program is also essential if you want to keep all those nasties away.

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