Helpful Technology Tips
What is a Computer Virus?
A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself and infect a computer without the permission or knowledge of the user. The term "virus" is also commonly but erroneously used to refer to other types of malware, adware and spyware programs that do not have the reproductive ability. A true virus can only spread from one computer to another when its host (some form of executable code) is taken to the target computer, for instance because a user sent it over a network or the Internet, or carried it on a removable medium such as a floppy disk, CD, or USB drive. Viruses can increase their chances of spreading to other computers by infecting files on a network file system or a file system that is accessed by another computer.
Viruses are sometimes confused with computer worms and Trojan horses, which are technically different. A worm can spread itself to other computers without needing to be transferred as part of a host, and a Trojan horse is a program that appears harmless but has a hidden agenda. Worms and Trojans, like viruses, may cause harm to either a computer system's hosted data, functional performance, or networking throughput, when they are executed. Some viruses and other malware have symptoms noticeable to the computer user, but most are surreptitious. This makes it hard for the average user to notice, find and disable and is why specialist anti-virus programs are now commonplace.
Most personal computers are now connected to the Internet and to local area networks, facilitating the spread of malicious code. Today's viruses may also take advantage of network services such as the World Wide Web, e-mail, Instant Messaging and file sharing systems to spread, blurring the line between viruses and worms. Furthermore, some sources use an alternative terminology in which a virus is any form of self-replicating malware.