What is a virus?
A computer virus is a small software program that spreads from one computer to another computer. Depending on the intent of the person that created the virus, it may just use up your computer’s memory and make it very slow or even stop working all together. Other viruses may delete key files or steal your sensitive information.
How are viruses spread?
The majority of viruses are spread via email. The virus may be hidden in a document, picture, audio or video file. Also, clicking on infected links is a good way to get zapped by a virus. Computer viruses can also be hidden in pirated software or in downloads from the Internet.
How can you tell if your computer is infected with a virus?
The following are some of the main indicators that your computer may be infected with a virus, although keep in mind that some of these same indicators can be caused by other problems with your computer:
- Your computer is running slower than usual.
- Several unexpected pop-up windows.
- Your computer is locking up more and more.
- You can’t access some programs or disk drives on your computer.
- Unusual error messages appear.
- Anti-virus software is disabled or will not run.
- People in your address book are telling you that you have been sending much more emails lately. There are some viruses that will scour your address book and then automatically send out emails to all of your friends and family members, making it look like you sent the email.
How to protect your computer against viruses?
Practice safe computing ALWAYS. The mother of one of my best friends has absolutely no antivirus software on her computer (I do not recommend this). She has had the same computer for seven years and has never had a virus infection. Why you ask? She does only three things with her computer. She types up letters with her word processor program. She prints those letters and sends them to her grandchildren. She only opens emails from her grandchildren and her 70-year-old sister.
I have another friend that has more security software installed on his computer than anyone I know…he still keeps getting infected. He willy-nilly opens emails from anyone. He clicks on links in emails. He visits websites that are known to typically be infected with viruses. The point, your safe computing behavior combined with good virus protection can go a long way in keeping you safe. So far I have been lucky. I have gone 23 years without a single virus infection.
Don’t click on random links that lead to unknown files and websites. Never open an e-mail attachment unless you know who sent the message and you are expecting the attachment. Going to adult websites and sites that have pirated software, music or movies will certainly increase your chances of encountering viruses.
Other precautions you can take:
Use a Firewall. A firewall controls what information enters and leaves your computer. It can alert you to suspicious activity such as someone trying to connect to your computer or some program (virus) trying to install itself. The ZoneAlarm Firewall works well for me.
Keep your software up-to-date. Microsoft is always discovering security holes in their software and release updates to fix those problems. Make sure you keep your computer updated.
Install an antivirus program. Install an antivirus program AND keep it up to date.