Most computer and mobile device users have heard numerous warnings about avoiding viruses on their computer. While the word “virus” carries all kinds of ominous emotional imagery, the truth is a computer virus isn’t all that exotic. It certainly doesn’t deserve the kind of hyperbolic reputation it has accumulated over the last thirty years.
The key to understanding any security threat is to first define what it is, and then use that information to determine the actual threat to your computer, data and personal safety. Determining exactly what a thing is should be the first step in any investigation, and it is no different when you are confronting security threats to your computer.
Why call it a “Virus?”
Simply put, a virus is an application that runs on your computer or mobile device without authorization. With few exceptions, viruses are designed to do things that are annoying or destructive. The most potent versions can cause all kinds of havoc, especially if they get loose on an improperly secured network.
The reason these unauthorized applications are called viruses is because they perform actions on their own that are very similar to their biological namesakes.
This is the first reason you need to install anti-virus software. Many viruses can duplicate themselves and spread from computer to computer on their own. Once they have “infected” a computer, they will perform whatever function they are designed to carry out, likely without the user’s knowledge.
What Do Viruses Do?
Once presented with the full range of things a virus can do, the second reason to install anti-virus software becomes clear. Early viruses did little besides replicate themselves. Some wrote their own code to computer floppy disks and CD-ROM discs so when the media was used in another computer, the virus could spread. Some viruses open ports through a computer network to admit malicious software or to communicate with a remote machine and request instructions.
More sophisticated viruses can install keyloggers to detect what a user is typing and then to transmit that information to a remote machine. This is one of the key methods for an attacker to discover passwords, account numbers and so on. It is also one of the more popular kinds of viruses transmitted by email.
While this all sounds like nothing but bad news, the fact is defending a computer against viruses is a relatively simple task. It requires a little study and a little effort and common sense.
The most successful viruses find their way on to many computers, which makes them much easier to study and identify. Once a virus is identified, it can be detected using a simple data comparison. This is much like a genetic test to identify a biological virus. This is the key function performed by anti-virus applications.
Each has a database of known viruses. The application routinely scans the hard drive and RAM of the machine it is protecting, comparing the data it finds to its database. If it finds a virus, it can notify the user and “quarantine” the virus data so it can’t further damage the user’s data.
The third reason to install next generation antivirus is simple. There is no way you can address all these security threats on your own. If your computer is connected to others through any kind of a network, even if your network is only internal, you need to take advanced protective measures.