What is a computer virus?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 | laptops, security

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 computer virus is similar.  It is a small software programme, which has really no purpose other than to cause harm.  It is infectious in the sense that 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.

Virus programmes are written by clever programmers who want to cause wilful harm to as many computers as possible.  Their intentions are not noble.

The Microsoft Windows environment is the main target of viruses.  If you are working under Apple Mac or an open source operating system, you are unlikely to be infected by a nasty virus.

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

  • unsolicited emails may be sent to everyone in your address book from your laptop
  • your laptop may restart constantly so that it becomes impossible for you to work on it
  • some of your documents may be emailed to strangers
  • some of your data files may be erased or corrupted
  • all the data from your hard disk may be erased.

A virus attack is one of the greatest threats to your laptop and against which you must have adequate protection.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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1 Comment to What is a computer virus?

David Mathe
Tuesday, 28 April, 2009

And most, though not all viral attacks come in the form of executable files. When you receive an attachment, make sure you save it so that it can be scanned before you open it. One of the articles that i read referred to a virus that attaches itself to certain utility programs we may need to install before viewing certain files e.g Flashplayer. So the virus will prompt you to install that program before you view pictures etc.By clicking on the install option one may actually be downloading a virus to their PC or laptop.

The Monash University website gives very insightful and helpful guidelines on how to minimize infections from viruses, some of which are listed below.

1. Do not run, download or forward any unsolicited executables, documents, spreadsheets, etc. Anything that runs on your PC should be virus checked and approved first.
2. Any email you weren’t expecting should be treated with suspicion, even if it comes from someone you know. It is worth calling whoever sent it to you to check that they intended to send you the email.
3. NEVER open any files with a double file extension, (e.g. iamavirus.txt.vbs). Under normal circumstances you should never need to receive or use these.
4. Avoid downloading executables or documents from the internet. These are often used to spread computer viruses.
5. Although JPG, GIF and MP3 files are not normally infected with viruses, some viruses can be disguised as these file types, also some recent software problems with image viewers and/or mp3 players have allowed them to contain viruses. Some caution is recommended when opening these file types. Jokes, pictures, graphics, screensavers and movie files should be treated with the same amount of suspicion as other file types.
6. If in doubt, contact the ITS Service Desk for advice, do not open the file or email.
7. If you think you have been infected with a virus inform the ITS Service Desk immediately. Do not panic or interrupt other users.
8. Any virus warnings or hoaxes should be sent to the ITS Service Desk who can help confirm whether or not it is genuine. Do not forward these warnings to anyone else; unless you are signed up to an official virus alert service it is unlikely to be a genuine warning.
9. Ensure that you follow the same procedures at home and elsewhere. Viruses can easily be spread from one location to another.
10. Bank Scams: Ignore emails from banks, unless you have explicitly asked the bank to communicate with you via e-mail.
* Even if you have explicitly asked a bank to communicate with you via e-mail, be cautious if you choose to enter your account details such as your BSB number, account number or pin into a website supplied via e-mail, as it may be forged.

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