Today, the catalog of viruses you have to defend yourself against is frighteningly complex. In fact, it's become as complex as, well, ordering coffee.
"Looks like you've been infected by a dropper that's put a Trojan on your system, which deployed a multi-partite that opened a backdoor and also infected the master boot record."
Sounds like an order at Starbucks, don't you think?
TIP: A worm called the KakWorm embeds itself in an HTML email (an email that works like a web page to display pictures and layout). All you need to do to execute it is to preview the email in either Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Outlook Express. The security hole that allowed this has now been patched, so if you have all your Windows security patches installed you won't get Kakked. But should you turn off your email preview feature just in case? I'll leave that up to you to decide. Personally, I've left mine on because it is such a handy feature. But then again, I am fastidious about keeping my security patches and virus signatures up to date.Why are they called computer viruses? Well, because they have similar characteristics to biological viruses that infect humansin at least one way. The computer variety jumps from computer to computer much like a cold virus jumps from your kids to you and from you to your spouse.
Don't let all this frighten you, though. It's not that hard to figure out and defending your computer against viruses is pretty straightforward. Still, if the idea makes you queasy, skip ahead to the part of the chapter about how to easily protect yourself from viruses. But I hope you stick around because the more you know, the geekier you will be. Okay, not really. But understanding them makes them much less scary.
Viruses were one of the first real security threats people had to deal with when personal computers started appearing in homes a couple of decades ago. The first computer viruses were written in the 1980s; however, they really didn't become a big threat until the late 1990s when everyone who owned a personal computer started connecting to the Internet.
Before then viruses spread via floppy disks or CDs. They would ride on the back of files stored on a disk or in the boot area of the floppy and replicate when the disk was inserted into the computer.
The Internet's popularity has also become the chief reason that security on personal computers has become such a hot topic. A Net connection is the off-ramp from the Internet into your computer for all data. And guess what? For viruses it's an express lane.
Before we go any further, let's define what a computer virus is because it's important to understand that before we start smacking them with a hammer. Here's a basic definition:
A computer virus is a malicious computer program that, when executed by an unsuspecting human, performs tasks that primarily include replicating itself and in some cases deploying a payload.
Not so hard, right? Let's break it down into easy-to-chew pieces.
Interestingly, viruses were first conceived in 1949, when computer pioneer John von Neumann wrote a paper theorizing that programs could become self-replicating. Von Neumann's theories came to life in the 1950s at Bell Labs where programmers created a game called "Core Wars" in which two players could unleash software "organisms" into the mainframe computer and watch as they competed for control of the machine. It would take more than 30 years for computer viruses to become a threat, but when PCs started becoming commonplace in homes and schools in the early 1980s, computer viruses could replicate and move from computer to computerfirst by infected floppies, and later via networked PCs.
Now that you know What is a Virus, you should read Who Triggers a Computer Virus and Hows Does it Spread