Computers have been around for over two thousand years. The first computing device was the Antikythera Mechanism, which was created to calculate the positions of different celestial objects.
Computers have evolved over generations from large machines that took a few operators to use to mobile devices that go anywhere we go. They make our lives easier and help us connect with other people around the globe.
Despite all of their many advantages, today’s computers still have some flaws. They are susceptible to system errors, slow program loading times and Internet connectivity issues. Another major concern is the threat of computer viruses.
What is a Computer Virus?
A computer virus is any form of software that maliciously replicates itself in a computer. It does so by replicating files in the computer and adding its own code to that device.
When that happens, the computer is said to have been “infected.” Computer viruses are designed to gain access to other people’s devices and the data contained in them.
Personal files and other information can potentially be at risk. Some viruses are easy to fix, and others require more professional and technical expertise to remove.
What are Some of the Symptoms of a Computer Virus?
Some of the more common symptoms of computer viruses are:
- Slow performance. If your computer takes longer than normal to start up or is generally sluggish in terms of executing commands or running different kinds of programs, it may have a virus.
- Less storage space. Some viruses attack your computer by filling up empty slots in your computer’s memory. If you’ve been having computer issues recently, you should check your computer’s memory. A sure sign of a virus is running out of memory in a very short period of time.
- Error messages and system crashes. Some viruses will cause your computer to operate incorrectly. You may see an increased number of system crashes or error messages when trying to run programs. You may be in the middle of your normal activity and experience issues.
- Browser problems. If you have problems accessing the Internet, pages you normally visit that work just fine are suddenly giving you problems, or if you’re being redirected to pages that you’re unfamiliar with, your computer may have a virus. You may have to shut down your browser or run a security scan in these instances.
- Additional pop-up windows. Pop-ups are annoying in general, but you’ll probably see a lot more of them if your computer is infected. They may contain malware or other software that is hazardous to your device’s operating system. Never click on any pop-up ads, even if they’re from a site that you trust. Some of them may have rogueware, which can charge you to remove a non-existent virus from your machine. In reality, all they do is add more malware which can further damage your computer.
- Missing files. If you are unable to find or access files, your computer may also have been infected. Some viruses work to either move or encrypt files or delete them entirely. If you have important files on your machine that you use on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to back them up to an external device.
- Bogus emails. Another sign of a virus are emails that are sent to your friends or family members with your name on them that you didn’t send. Certain viruses hijack email programs with attached links that can wreak havoc on their machines when opened. Hackers often use these kinds of emails to infect computers once they have access to your email.
- Attacks on your computer’s security. You may notice that you can’t access your firewall or anti-virus programs all of a sudden. These are sure signs of a computer virus. They attempt to disable your computer’s protection. Once successful. your machine can be exposed to a wide variety of damaging kinds of software.
- Overly active hard drives. When your hard disk drive is continuously running or spinning, even when it’s not in use, it may be a sign that your computer is infected with a virus. This can happen even when your computer is not on.
- Unusual network activity. Another common sign of computer viruses is unusually high network activity. This happens because the virus is sending information to other users back and forth across the Internet.
Some Well-known Computer Viruses
The ILOVEYOU Virus. Unleashed in 2000, this was one of the most devastating computer viruses in modern history. The virus was contained in emails that used the words “I love you” in the subject line.
Attached to these emails was a malware program that overwrote programs and personal files on thousands of computers in many countries.
It was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most virulent virus at the time.
The virus was created by Philippine natives Onel de Guzman and Reonel Ramones.
Unfortunately, because there were no laws at the time against writing malware programs, they were not charged or sentenced for their actions.
Slammer. Slammer was a more ambitious kind of virus. It went beyond infecting just computers and hijacked many major operating systems.
It was infamous for replicating itself in a matter of mere minutes. Slammer infected over half of the servers that basically ran the entire Internet in 2003.
This included 911 emergency services and air traffic control operating systems. It was made possible by a software security vulnerability.
Microsoft had made a patch available for this vulnerability for several months but not all installations had the patch before the virus struck.
Cryptolock. Cryptolock was one of the first well-known ransomware viruses. Ransomware is a form of malware that held hundreds of people’s files hostage in 2013.
It was spread through email attachments, and encrypted users files making them unavailable for use.
The hackers would later send follow-up emails offering a decryption key for users to regain access to their information, in exchange for a certain sum of money as payment.
Although system restores were able to help some users regain access to their files, the hackers made off with over $300 million in less than four months.
Storm Worm. This was another particularly nasty virus that infected over 200 million computers in 2006 and 2007.
It was transmitted by emails that contained the subject line “230 dead as storm batters Europe.”
Storm Worm was very effective at transforming computers into bots that spread the virus to other computers very rapidly. Some users were amazed at the large amounts of spam emails their devices sent out to other people on their contact lists as a result of this virus.
Stuxnet. Stuxnet was a dangerous virus that was spread by files contained on USB drives. It was designed by several government engineers in the United States.
First uncovered in 2010, the purpose of this virus was to prevent Iran from creating nucleair weapons.
The virus focused on software in an Iranian facility that stored uranium. The virus was so powerful that it actually caused some of their centrifuges to self-destruct.
This was one of the first major cyberwar in the digital age. It caused setbacks in Iran’s nuclear development program, not to mention the loss of millions of dollars in the process.
How to Safeguard Against Computer Viruses
While there are new viruses being created every day, here are some proactive steps that you can take to help safeguard your devices against the threat of attacks:
Scan your operating systems every day. Running daily scans of your computer’s hard drive provide another level of added security. They can help expose potential weaknesses and vulnerabilities that can be exposed by malware and other dangerous viruses.
Leave email attachments and links alone. This should be common sense, but you should NEVER click on email links or attachments. They are one of the most common ways for viruses to spread and infect your computer. If the attachment is from a trusted source, you should still use a good malware protection program on it to scan for viruses. Instead of clicking on the link, open a new browser window to open the site in question to check for its validity.
Alter your computer’s DNS process. Internet users need to be wary of compromised web pages and infected programs, pages and links. Domain Name Service (DNS) protection can help filter out potentially harmful URLs that can hijack your computer.
Use a good antivirus program. There are a lot of antivirus programs out there. However, you usually get what you pay for. Take the time to carefully research each program and the services and benefits that they offer. It may cost a little more, but quality antivirus programs greatly reduce the chances of your computer running afoul of viruses. Some of the better programs run scans every day and alert you of potential threats.
Don’t autorun any programs. A lot of modern computer viruses attach themselves to programs that are already operating. These problems worsen when you add hard drives or thumb drives to machines that are infected. Disable the autorun setting on any programs that you use.
When it comes to firewalls, use one that is hardware-based. There are also a lot of different firewall programs that you can use. Some are software based and others are hardware based.
Software-based firewalls can be effective, but they also can cause problems in networks where there are shared drives and shared printer connections. Hardware-based firewalls provide additional security against automatic attacks that can occur at any time. They are recommended for any computers that are connected to the Internet.
Use real-time sypware prevention programs. Not every spyware program is created equal. Some of them can leave your machine vulnerable to adware and Trojan Horse viruses. For better protection, choose a spyware program that provide real-time active protection.
Some malware and spyware protection programs add additional levels of security by providing link protection by checking website addresses against databases of some of the more well-known fraudulent pages.
Others also prevent phishing attacks, where pages act as if they’re serving one purpose when in actuality they’re attempting to gain your personal information.
Disable Outlook automatic image previews. Some viruses are contained in graphics codes. These viruses are spread by infected Outlook messages. For this reason, you should disable Outlook’s automatic image preview feature on your computer.
This is especially important if the messages are not being sent from someone that you know personally. You can easily turn this feature back on if you need to.
Update your virus and spyware protection programs regularly. Even if you don’t use your computer every day, you should still update its spyware and antivirus protection programs as often as possible.
There are new threats for virus infection every day. Some of them are brief, but they can still affect thousands of computers every day.
With the rising popularity of social media, some viruses spread even faster now than ever before.
Another key component is to make sure that your current Windows licenses are up to date. Expired registrations can leave machines open to even more attacks.
Surf the web responsibly. We all use the Internet for different purposes. Everyone’s interests and needs are unique.
However, we should all make sure that we surf the World Wide Web responsibly. Never enter any personal information into a web page that you haven’t personally visited before.
Watch out for hyperlinks that can lead to fraudulent sites or contain viruses. Enter website addresses manually to avoid possible threats. You should also use pop-up blockers every time you go online, unless these programs interfere with normal Web activity.
Computers have definitely made our lives easier over the years. They help connect individuals and companies with other people and customers around the state and around the world.
They make our world smaller, but can also leave us open for attacks on our systems and personal data.
Computer viruses will probably not disappear entirely any time soon, but there are plenty of things that you can do to keep your devices and personal information safe.
This allows you to focus on surfing the web safely and continuing to embrace and enjoy our ever-changing technology.