Computer viruses have been with us for decades, disrupting our regular workflow, destroying precious files, and rendering devices useless. As time and innovation has progressed, viruses have evolved to become more destructive and spread more easily. To keep your devices safe, it is essential to know the traits of computer viruses and distinguish them from other digital threats such as malware and ransomware.
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What are Viruses, Malware, and Ransomware?
A virus is a malicious file that infects a device and can replicate itself, spreading from file to file and computer to computer. Hackers design viruses to perform such destructive tasks as indiscriminately deleting files and causing programs to malfunction. Malware is a more general term used to describe programs that use code to corrupt or destroy data. It includes viruses and other kinds of nefarious programs, among them ransomware.
Ransomware refers to a piece of code designed to disable the normal functioning of a computer system temporarily. It also sends a message to the victim, instructing them to pay a certain ransom for the computer’s normal functioning to resume.
How Does Your Computer Become Infected?
There are many avenues through which malware can gain access to your computer system. First is through files downloaded from some websites. The virus or ransomware may be hidden in a zipped file, which you may have thought were e-books, movie files, or game files.
Email is a common means of spreading malware. You may receive such a file as an attachment, or the link to it may be in the body of the email. There is also the chance for a corrupt flash drive or external hard drive to infect your computer once you plug it in.
What are Common Misconceptions About Computer Viruses?
A lot of information is available online and from other sources about viruses and malware in general, but not all of it is accurate. Here are some common misconceptions you may have heard:
- Ransomware is a New Threat – While reports of ransomware attacks have increased in the recent past, the use of this form of malware did not begin recently. The first ransomware attack was reported in 1989.
- Malware is Only Spread Via Email – Yes, email attachments and links may be a common means of spreading viruses and ransomware, but they’re not the only means. Malware can be inadvertently downloaded from websites, or piggyback on apps downloaded on mobile devices. Flash drives are a well-known means of moving viruses from computer to computer.
- Cyberattacks are Becoming Less Frequent – Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Sixty-eight percent of business leaders think that cyberattacks are on the rise. There is also an increase in ransomware attacks against business enterprises. However, that doesn’t mean personal computers are safe.
- If You Pay the Ransom, You Will Get Your Files Back – Just like in a real-world kidnapping scenario, there is no guarantee that all your affected files will be restored to you after you meet the attackers’ demands. In some cases, the ransomware itself is fake.
- Viruses are Easy to Detect – Cyberattacks are getting more and more sophisticated. Virus creators are finding more clever ways to disguise malicious files and spread them without detection.
- Antivirus Software Will Stop the Damage From Viruses – Antivirus software gives your computer knowledge of threats that have been found on your computer when you perform a scan. Once you run a virus scan, there will be a prompt to remove it from your computer. But what happens if there are new threats that we are still discovering? This is why it is crucial to keep your antivirus up to date.
- You’re Safe if You Only Visit Reputable Websites – Even the most trusted websites can be compromised. And many have fallen victim to very convincing spoofs of the real sites.
- Firewalls Protect Your Computer From Viruses – Firewalls try to detect the intrusion of malicious programs and filter them out based on specific rules. But malicious code can be easily hidden behind innocent-looking files, thereby bypassing your firewall undetected.
- Macs Can’t Get Viruses, and Only PCs Get Malware – Some might think that Macs are less prone to virus attacks than Windows PCs, but this may not be entirely true. No computer system is immune to malware.
- Viruses Can Cause Physical Damage – Viruses are pieces of code designed to corrupt or delete files, not hardware.
What Can You Do If Your Computer Becomes Infected?
Assuming you have antivirus software installed, the first thing you need to do is perform a virus scan. After the scan, the software will prompt you with instructions on how to remove any infected files. If this fails, your best bet may be to call a computer services provider that deals with malware and ransomware removal. A computer technician will have the knowledge to fix your computer and get it working normally again.
Cybersecurity experts feel that humans are the weakest link in the fight against malware. You can avoid being your own worst enemy by adopting safe habits when using your computer. Simple practices like not opening a suspicious email or being careful about the websites you visit can save you the time and expense of a corrupt computer.
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