What is a computer virus … for dummies!

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010 | technology

The computer virus lends its name from the field of biology.  In medical terms a virus is a minute infectious agent which lacks independent metabolism and is able to replicate only in a living host cell.  A virus acts in a similar way in a computer.

A virus is a small software program, which has really no purpose other than to cause harm.  It is infectious – that means it is transmitted from one computer to another.  Like a biological virus, it has the ability to replicate – make copies of – itself, while it is within your system. A computer virus can therefore be defined as:

A malicious piece of software that is designed to spread from one computer to another with the intent of causing damage.

Some viruses bring about more harm than others.  The damage may range from being a mere nuisance to causing system failure.  Some of the effects that you could experience if your computer is affected by a virus are:

Unsolicited e-mails are sent to everyone in your address book from your laptop.

Your computer restarts constantly so that it becomes impossible for you to work on it.

Some of your documents are e-mailed to strangers.

Some of your data files are erased or corrupted.

All the data from your hard disk are erased.

Where do these viruses come from?  Clever programmers who want to cause wilful harm to as many computers as possible write these programs – the Microsoft Windows environment is their main target.  If you are working under Apple Mac or an open source operating system, you are unlikely to be infected by a nasty virus.

Even if you are using Microsoft Windows, you don’t have to be haunted by the fear of virus attacks – protection is possible!

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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3 Comments to What is a computer virus … for dummies!

[...] good news is that many technology devices in a classroom are immune to computer viruses.  These nasty e-bugs do not affect equipment such as data projectors, scanners, printers or [...]

Mark C
Thursday, 16 December, 2010

Viruses are a major problem in our schools crippling them causing low computer usage. Despite having an antivirus program installed, their labs still contract viruses for various reasons:
(a) the antivirus is not updated either due internet issues, technical issues as well as human factors.
(b) the antivirus allows viruses through despite having it updated. There are better antivirus kits than the ones the schools use, but then again different antiviruses are vulnerable at different spots. You need a range of precautionary software.
(c) somewhere I read that Windows needs to be updated too. The analogy used by the article was that all precautions are taken by to secure your home with burglar bars, alarms and beams but then you forget that your back door to your house is open (vulnerable).

We support the fact that every educator should have a computer but then every household that has a computer needs an internet connection. Besides surfing the antivirus needs updating at least once a week, Windows and other programs need updating.

For educators we should support devices that use other operating systems that are not so prone to getting viruses. e.g Apple (a Unix variant), which almost has no viruses or Linux (another Unix clone). Apple is more expensive but is more stable, less prone to breakages and virtually has no viruses. Linux has a few but in comparison to Windows it is virtually zero.

As with the security for homes, cars etc we learn as we go along. A big threat to computers are actually HUMANS called crackers, but there is a bigger one…..US!

[...] taking all necessary precautions to protect your machine against virus attacks, it may still become a victim.  Perhaps you were not as vigilant in updating the anti-virus [...]

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