For many years now, viruses have been a common and nagging problem affecting every computer user worldwide. Last year alone, the number of malware attacks globally rose to 5.5 billion, a significant increase of two percent compared to the preceding year.
With every passing moment, millions of computers are threatened by malicious software. This also means the global cost of cybercrime continues to soar into billions. So, what are computer viruses, and what exactly do they do to your device?
In this article, we’ll explore viruses on your computer, how they harm it, and why you need to be vigilant to avoid any potential data loss and damage.
Let’s get in!
- What is a computer virus?
- Types of computer viruses
- The impact of computer viruses on your system
- Final thoughts
What is a computer virus?
Countless new computer viruses pop up daily, with over 1 billion malware programs out there. Unfortunately, many tend to underestimate the importance of knowing what they’re dealing with once it’s too late.
So, what is a computer virus? It’s a type of harmful software or malware that moves from one computer to another, causing harm to data and programs. Just like a real virus can spread and make you sick, computer viruses replicate themselves and insert their code.
After replication, the inserted code infects the other files and programs present on your computer’s operating system and network. While they do this, they can mess up your programs, delete files, and make big changes to your computer’s hard drive.
However, it’s worth noting that viruses don’t just materialize out of thin air on your computer—they have to be intentionally introduced to your system. Here are three common ways your device is exposed to a virus.
Infected email attachments
Computer viruses can’t infiltrate your computer through simple text-based emails. However, emails containing attachments or clickable links serve as a perfect conduit for their introduction to your device.
When you open an attachment or click a link, your computer unintentionally downloads the associated content. If that attachment or link harbors a virus, your device becomes a host for the infection.
Most hackers often employ deceptive tactics, camouflaging malicious links as innocent elements such as images or text, luring you into clicking on them.
Removable media like USB flash drives and external hard drives make it easier to transfer files across devices. But their connection to your computer system bears the risk of virus transmission.
For example, if you connect an infected removable media to your computer, there’s a higher chance the virus will spread to the computer system. This is especially easier if your device has weak antivirus protection.
Besides, if a hacker has attached a virus to a program or file on the media, you inadvertently introduce it when you plug it into your computer.
Whenever you download anything from the internet, you’re adding new files and code to your computer. Many viruses are cunningly bundled with seemingly harmless downloads, including free software trials or, ironically, free virus protection.
Illegally downloaded content, like music, movies, or games, presents a prime target for hackers, particularly when acquired through peer-to-peer networks. In such cases, even your antivirus program may struggle to fend off the impending threat.
Types of computer viruses
There are many different types of computer viruses, and all of them can be devastating. Here is a breakdown of the common viruses you should be wary of:
1. Macro viruses
Macro viruses are a common threat, primarily found in Microsoft Office programs, with Word and Excel files being their favorite hiding spots. They work by increasing the size of infected files as they attach their code.
When a file becomes infected with a macro virus, it transforms into a potential carrier, spreading the virus to other computers when shared, often via email. It’s essential to enable macro security settings and regularly scan for potential threats to protect your documents.
2. Web scripting virus
Web scripting viruses are capable of blending into the fabric of popular websites, often infiltrating social media platforms. The viruses camouflage themselves as regular links, luring users to click on them.
Once engaged, they compromise your data and may initiate spam campaigns, posing a danger to your system’s integrity and personal information. Due to their rapid spread, web scripting viruses demand vigilance and enhanced security measures to prevent further advances.
3. Trojan horses
Trojan horses are a devious type of computer virus disguised as ordinary programs running on your Mac or Windows PC, enticing you to install them unwittingly.
Once inside your macOS or Windows system, these viruses gain access to your files and silently collect sensitive data. Cybercriminals can then exploit this information for their malicious reasons.
Vigilance and cautious downloading practices are paramount when defending against these viruses. For example, you need to know how to detect trojan virus on Mac to defend your device against any further attacks.
4. Overwrite virus
Among the most destructive virus strains, overwrite viruses rank at the top. They can entirely replace an existing program with malicious code, effectively erasing the original. These viruses are commonly transmitted through email attachments and internet downloads.
To preemptively detect and handle these viruses, it is imperative to regularly scan files with reliable antivirus software before opening them.
5. Multipartite virus
Multipartite viruses employ multiple strategies to infiltrate and spread across computers. They typically reside in the computer’s memory and infect the hard disk, multiplying by altering the contents of various applications.
This leads to performance degradation and low available application memory. Avoid opening attachments from untrusted sources and install reputable antivirus software to avoid these viruses. Furthermore, clean the boot sector and the entire disk to prevent further spread.
6. Browser hijacker
Browser hijackers are not primarily classified as viruses. However, they engage in malicious activities that can severely wreak havoc on your digital presence. They can manually alter your web browser settings, such as the homepage, new tab page, and default search engine.
This ends up causing frustration while browsing. Browser hijackers frequently come with free software or stem from unverified sources. Choose a trusted software and maintain reliable antivirus protection to stay safe against browser hijackers.
7. Resident virus
A resident virus secretly infiltrates your computer’s memory, making them at home without your consent. The virus often enters your system via email attachments, infected downloads, or shared files.
However, what makes the virus particularly annoying is the ability to activate when your computer performs specific actions. Sometimes, they can even attach themselves to your antivirus software, rendering it ineffective.
8. Polymorphic virus
These viruses constantly alter their code to evade detection by traditional antivirus programs. They find their way onto your computer through email attachments or suspicious downloads, granting them access to delete files, steal data, and generally sabotage your system.
The impact of computer viruses on your system
The effects of a computer virus range from mild annoyances to severe damage, impacting both the functionality and security of your system. Let’s explore these consequences in detail:
1. Sluggish performance
Viruses often consume valuable system resources, causing your computer to slow down. You may notice longer boot times, delays in opening applications, and an overall reduction in performance. This degradation can be frustrating and negatively impact your productivity.
2. Data corruption and loss
Some viruses are designed to corrupt or destroy files and data on your computer. They can overwrite documents, delete important files, or even render your data irretrievable. Data loss can be particularly devastating, especially if you still need to back up your files.
3. Privacy invasion
Certain viruses are created with the sole purpose of stealing your personal information, such as passwords, credit card details, and other sensitive data. Cybercriminals can leverage this information for identity theft, financial fraud, or other malicious activities.
4. System instability
Viruses can destabilize your operating system and software. Frequent crashes, error messages, and system freezes are common symptoms of an infected computer. These issues disrupt your workflow and can lead to frustration.
5. Unauthorized access
Some viruses open backdoors in your system, allowing remote hackers to get access to your computer. Once inside, they can control your computer, steal your data, or use your system for illicit activities.
6. Resource drain
Cryptojacking viruses are known for hijacking your computer’s processing power to mine cryptocurrencies for cybercriminals. This resource drain can lead to increased electricity bills and further reduce your system’s performance.
7. Financial consequences
Dealing with the aftermath of a virus attack can be costly. You may need to invest in professional virus removal services, potentially purchase new software, and even incur financial losses if your data or financial information is stolen.
Computer viruses exist in many forms, and understanding what they are and the damage they cause to your device is crucial to handling them. Viruses are just one type of malware—many other forms of malicious software can harm your computer.
It’s always advisable to build multiple layers of cybersecurity defense to deal with each virus threat. These include investing in robust antivirus software, keeping software up to date, and backing up your computer.