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Internet Safety

Computer Virus Nighmares

Computer viruses are called viruses due to their similarities with biological viruses. In the same way that biological viruses enter the body and infect cells, computer viruses get into computers and infect files. Both types of virus can replicate themselves and spread, passing the infection from one infected system to another. Also, just as a biological virus is a microorganism, computer viruses are micro-programs.

In addition to replicating, a virus is generally programmed to deliver a payload. Some computer viruses are just annoying and might display a message on a trigger date. Some, however, are programmed to damage data by corrupting programs, deleting files, or reformatting disks. Here is an example of a recent rampant virus received as an Email.

The best definition of a virus is that it is a piece of programming code usually disguised as something else that causes some unexpected and usually undesirable event. A computer virus is often designed so that it is automatically spread to other computer users. Viruses can be transmitted as attachments to an email note, as downloads, or it could be present on a diskette or CD. The source of the email note, downloaded file, or CD you have received is often unaware of the virus. Some viruses wreak havoc as soon as their code is executed; other viruses lie dormant until circumstances cause their code to be executed by the computer. Some viruses are playful in intent and effect ("Happy Birthday, Gertrude") and some can be quite harmful erasing data or causing your hard disk to require reformatting.

The effects of the viruses vary enormously. A virus can damage or delete data stored in a computer, use your computer to spread more viruses or disable another computer, cause the infected computer to crash or it may just display messages on the screen. In addition to their transmission techniques, computer viruses also use evasion techniques. This means that the virus has techniques or a defense system that makes it difficult to detect and helps it avoid any action taken against it. Some even attempt to disable your Antivirus software. You are running Antivirus software, aren't you?

Here is an example of just how fast a virus can spread. One of the fastest spreading computer viruses was the one known as the "Slammer Worm" It started when someone sent some code to a SQL server where it snuck in through an open unprotected port. Once it was in that server, the Slammer generated a set of random Internet addresses and scanned them for other unprotected computers. Then it infected them. From the computers it infected, it generated more IP addresses, scanned them and infected them. Seems like a nightmare doesn't it?

The Slammer worm was relentless. In the first minute of existence, it doubled the number of machines that it infected every 8.5 seconds. In just three minutes it was scanning 55 million targets per second! Within 10-minutes, 90 percent of all unprotected computers in the world were infected. Luckily that is all that it did was spread. What a nightmare it would have been if it carried a payload that actually damaged computers.

You can help protect your computer from a virus attack by "inoculating" it with antivirus software. Just remember that, like many vaccination shots, one is not enough. You will need to get regular boosters. In this case, that simply means updating your antivirus software regularly. These updates are generally available on a subscription basis from your antivirus vendor. Stay up to date on any Internet Virus Information on our Virus Resource page.

It is not just having the antivirus program that is important, you also need to keep it updated. There are new computer viruses reported daily and the antivirus security companies usually update their virus protection files daily. But amazingly enough, there are still viruses going around the Internet that started over a year ago. The only way that these viruses could still be spreading is because there are a lot of people with computers that just aren't running Antivirus software or not keeping it updated.

Although it is good practice, simply not opening email from someone that you don't know isn't enough protection either for two reasons. Number one is that the person sending you the email may be somebody you know but his or her computer may be infected and they don't know it. Another reason is that the mail may have a familiar address because the address was spoofed right out of your address book. There are other forms of viruses called worms or trojan horses that get into your system by other means than email. For example; the Blaster Worm scoured the Internet and infected millions of computers by entering through an unprotected port of unprotected computers. Yes they are sneaky. Good, updated antivirus software is the only defense against these nightmarish creatures.

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