A computer virus is a computer program that creates copies of itself (self-replication) and spreads to other computers. Viruses can be transmitted via email, instant messaging, file sharing systems, or even by an infected CD or floppy disk. Often a virus will pick up all the addresses in your email address book and send a copy of the virus to your friends and family.
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Sometimes the consequences of a virus are not serious – the time needed to scan all incoming email attachments, for example, or the increased traffic on a network. Sometimes the consequences of a virus are more sinister. Your could lose all the files on your computer. The virus could contain a Trojan Horse that opens a backdoor on your computer, leaving you vulnerable to a hacker ready to take control of your PC (as was the case with the W32/MYDOOM virus).
How can you tell if your computer has been infected by a virus? Here are a few signs and symptoms:
- Your computer is running very slowly.
- Strange or unexpected error messages appear on your screen.
- Your computer shuts down without warning or crashes frequently.
- Programs are not running properly.
- Strange files or directories appear on your PC.
- Your computer runs out of space or experiences problems with memory.
The good news is most anti-virus software companies provide fixes or instructions for removal of specific computer viruses. However, it’s a lot quicker and easier to prevent a computer virus infection than to try and fix a computer that’s been infected. Here are a few suggestions for protecting yourself from computer viruses:
- Use a good anti-virus program. Make sure the virus definitions are current. The easiest way to do this is to follow the software company’s instructions for setting up automatic updates. Run a full system virus scan on a regular (weekly) basis.
- Don’t open email attachments from people you don’t know, and be careful when opening attachments from people you do know. They might be infected with a virus and not know it, so always perform a virus scan on attached files before opening.
- Keep your Microsoft Windows updates and security patches current. Once again you can follow Microsoft’s instructions for turning on automatic updates.
- A personal firewall can give you additional protection from unwanted computer virus infections.
- Use the most recent version of your instant messaging software. Don’t open files from people you don’t know, and exercise caution when opening files from people you do know.
- Regularly back up the information on your computer so you won’t lose important files if your computer does become infected with a virus.
The best advice for protecting yourself and your computer from viruses is to exercise common sense. Most definitely in the case of computer viruses an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.