It’s often said that coders can make or break the internet. They make the internet by creating great apps, websites, software etc., and can also mar the internet through malicious programs like viruses. Computer viruses are one of the most discussed topics by regular computer users. You must have found yourself discussing this topic one way or the other. However, many don’t know the details about computer viruses.
As such, we must give a detailed explanation of the life and activities of computer bugs. This piece will also explain if a computer virus can remain undetected or affect human beings. If you have a clear understanding of how viruses operate, you will be equipped to deal with them appropriately.
What is a computer virus?
A computer virus is a malicious code or a program written for specific objectives such as alter a program or spread itself from one system to another. They are used to cause harm when transferred to a technological device. A computer virus can be used to steal data or destroy a device!
Some define a computer virus as anything capable of attacking a computer. However, the activity of a computer virus goes beyond merely attacking a system. It can attack hard disks, the entire operating system of a computer, or parts of any electronic device.
Computer viruses can as well be likened to a biological virus that attacks humans. Their effects and operation are quite similar to viruses spread in humans and devices alike. They are both not invited but infect their hosts to cause harm. The UK IT Governance recorded a whopping rate of 20 billion cyber attacks in the year 2020. Such attacks were aimed at different things, but the underlying effects were devastating damages.
To view a concise version of this article, we invite you to watch our video on the same topic.
How does a computer virus spread?
Computer viruses spread through internet downloads at a high level, browsing infected websites, email attachments, and social engineering-based scams (such as voice call to browse a website, malicious USB).
To understand the dangers of a computer virus, one of the common traits is that they are capable of replicating through network sharing. As such, its mode of transfer can be through network sharing or electronic mails. It can as well infect a system through a file while downloading it online without protection software. After this, such a virus can replicate itself and carry out destructive works. It can as well attach itself to executable files and thereby infecting the systems and networks.
It is not uncommon for many computer users to think that a computer virus is the same as a computer worm. Viruses are different from worms, spyware, and rootkits. However, all can be classified as examples of malicious software or codes. All of these types of malware have a common function, making it impossible for your system to operate effectively.
Most viruses spread through the web and email traffic. Users browsing the web may unintentionally download malicious programs in nature, click on the links in the email or execute email attachments leading to virus infection on the underlying computer system. In advanced mode, viruses can bypass security protections in place. These are often with the use of security applications or network-level access controls.
What harm can a virus do to your computer?
Writers of malicious software like computer viruses have their reasons for doing such –a deliberate effort to attack your PC. The intention of the writer determines the harm the virus can cause you when it inhabits your system. The following are the harms a computer virus can do to your computer system;
- Damage and corrupt files
One major function of a commuter virus is to damage the file on the host computer. A computer virus can corrupt any file available on the hard drive. Unfortunately, any file corrupted by a computer virus cannot be recovered as it has been rendered useless. The file can be any type, including documents, audio files, video files, and applications.
- Slow down the performance of your computer
A computer virus carries out its operation in the background. However, this operation affects the performance of your operating system, windows especially. This is because the background operation of the virus slows down the computer speed. As such, it makes your system perform poorly, and programs take a longer time to respond.
- Missing files on the computer hard disk
Aside from the fact that a computer virus can corrupt your files, the presence of such a malicious code on your computer system can also result in the incessant disappearance of files. The virus can either send the file to the writer or delete the files permanently from your system.
- Misbehaviour of computer programs and applications
Some applications or even the computer can start displaying irrelevant messages when attacked by a virus. This has been the method of high-profile hackers.
Likewise, you may realise some programs are running by themselves without a command from the user. This is another way to identify that your commuter is under a virus attack. At times, the virus may replace all available files on your system without your permission.
Viruses are purpose written in various languages to infect Windows and Linux operating systems. We come across another myth about viruses on mac systems. Simply:
Can Mac computers get viruses?
Yes. Just like other computer systems, viruses can infect Mac computers too. Some of the examples include FakeFileOpener, ThiefQuest, BirdMiner. In the past, we have shared computer virus facts and ridiculous myths article.
- Steal information
Cybercriminals program computer viruses to carry out cybercrimes. Viruses created by such people are capable of stealing your data and sending it over to the creator. Information like your name, credit card details, and sensitive information kept on your computer can be the target of a virus. This is why having antivirus software is important on every business computer.
Can computer viruses go undetected?
A computer virus can go unnoticed because there are several ways it can hide in a system. Most times, it is the activity of the virus on the computer that announces its presence. On the other hand, it may be detected by antivirus software. However, it is still possible for a computer virus to be present on your computer without showing symptoms.
Computer viruses to regularly still your info and send it to the originator are always decisive. They may remain in disguise for a long time without being detected. Such a virus aims to constantly feed the developer with your data and information without your notice.
This, however, is possible when your virus protection is out of date. A good antivirus must be up-to-date and must identify the latest strings and signatures of viruses. A virus created with a new signature may remain undetected by an antivirus that identifies an old signature. See some of the ways virus hide:
- Attaching to system files (System files are critical files that are part of your computer’s operating system) without changing anything in the system files.
- Self-encrypting. This means the virus can convert (information or data) into a code and prevent users or anti-virus software access it without due permission from you, the user.
- Morphing: Virus detectors can’t detect a morphing virus because it changes its code each time it infects a new computer. Some change their code in the infected system every few hours. There’s also the polymorphic virus; a polymorphic virus produces various but operational copies of itself.
- A dynamic or patient virus is designed to attack only when there is a vulnerability.
What is the most harmful computer virus?
Ransomware is the latest kid on the viruses block and a deadly one for businesses.
Different forms of computer viruses with different operations have been reported all over the world. The activity of computer viruses includes stealing information, damaging the computer system, and more. It is, therefore, wise to say that all computer viruses are harmful. However, the level of damages caused is different.
Norton UK has reported Cryptolocker (Ransomware) as the most dangerous computer virus. It was released in Sept 2013 and locked user files after infecting users through email attachments. This is based on the damages caused and the rate at which the virus went viral. Cryptolocker, when it takes over your computer, encrypts all your files and restrict access. After which, there is a demand for you to pay a bitcoin levy to retrieve those files.
Other examples of virus notable for great harm are;
- Zeus Gameover
- ILoveyou Virus
Can computer viruses affect humans?
The thought that a computer virus can affect human sounds absurd, isn’t it? However, if you can look into the advent of technology in the medical field, you would realise it is possible. The effect, however, might not be as critical as biological viruses on humans.
In the medical field, technology discovery has made it possible to implant a medical device on a human’s body. These implanted chips are made up of computer programs that can work alongside biological systems.
Research has also made it known that some of this implanted device has no protection against potential attacks. As such, hackers can take advantage of them and reprogram them. This will result in a negative action of the chip and a negative effect on the host.
Are all computer viruses harmful?
With all the noise about computer viruses, it’s safe to think that all computer viruses are BAD! However, viruses are just a piece of computer code, similar to instructions.
All computer viruses are not harmful. Some viruses are harmless; others may delete information. More so, ethical hackers who work for organisations and security outfits engage in the creation of viruses. However, those viruses aim to help achieve a good aim by simulating and assessing the cyber preparedness of organisations.
We help businesses protect their most prized assets by securing their cybersphere. This includes carrying out independent technical security assessments to identify gaps and provide an accurate risk posture to help customers handle their digital risks. Get in touch to discuss your primary security concerns; it includes a free consultation call to advise you without any sales tactics.
Harman Singh is a security professional with over 15 years of consulting experience in both public and private sectors.
As the Managing Consultant at Cyphere, he provides cyber security services to retailers, fintech companies, SaaS providers, housing and social care, construction and more. Harman specialises in technical risk assessments, penetration testing and security strategy.
He regularly speaks at industry events, has been a trainer at prestigious conferences such as Black Hat and shares his expertise on topics such as ‘less is more’ when it comes to cybersecurity. He is a strong advocate for ensuring cyber security as an enabler for business growth.
In addition to his consultancy work, Harman is an active blogger and author who has written articles for Infosecurity Magazine, VentureBeat and other websites.