We know how a biological virus works: John comes into the office sniffling and hocking up a lung, he blows his nose half the day like he’s trying to wake the dead, and he gropes everyone’s lunch in the communal office fridge because he’s looking for his probiotic yogurt. But how does a computer virus work? How does it spread? So you know what antivirus companies like Norton are working hard to extirpate and fend against, here’s how a computer virus originates, breeds, and operates.
1. The evil behind the genius
A computer virus is a small bit of software that invades much larger pieces of software (like an operating system) and is designed to use a computer’s existing working infrastructure to sustain its own existence and also self-replicate. Computer programmers write viruses, they don’t materialize out of thin air. These people write malware for the twisted thrill of seeing something else destroyed, to break records, or to obtain potentially valuable information by illicit means.
2. The silicon sickness
For a virus to be viable, it must be executed on the host computer. This means that if you’re using your computer, you must unwittingly download a virus-encoded program, document, or file and then run it as you would any innocuous program for the virus to initiate its attack. A virus can be in the form of an attachment to an email, or a download from a compromised website.
When you download the virus and activate it (run it or open it), it will then infect the code of multiple programs on your computer and start replicating itself spontaneously. If the host computer is connected to other computers, by a server or intranet, the virus will attempt to spread via those channels as well. This is where anti-virus software like Norton step in: they screen downloaded executables, and act quickly to eliminate threats before they can become active and metastasize into malignant software. Anti-virus programs are worth every penny, even if it’s only a few after you use a coupon code.
3. Operation: Destruction
Once the virus has invaded a number of programs and established itself on the computer, it will enter its attack phase. A virus will either activate its own attack after a certain amount of time has passed, or will be triggered by the opening of another program on the computer. The viral army can overload the computer with infectious replicate code, or it can acquire personal identification information to be used for fraud. Particularly destructive viruses can decimate entire stores of information or total a computer for good.
The last thing you want is for a virus to destroy your valuable hardware or software. Make sure you’re protected above and beyond your computer’s default security measures. The benefits will greatly outway the potential costs.