This blog will discuss what computer viruses are, how you catch a computer virus on your computer and what you can do to prevent getting infected by a computer virus.
Computer viruses can come in many shapes and forms; they are akin to the weeds in a garden that are undesirable, disruptive and damaging. Their purpose can be to either damage your computer or to steal information from you. Early viruses used to be just annoying by preventing you from working and were produced by someone bored and mischievous. Today viruses are more sophisticated. They are employed by international criminal gangs with the intent of extorting money from you or stealing financial information to access your accounts. In other words it’s a bit like being mugged online.
There is another form of disruptive programs and apps called Malware which stands for ‘Malicious Software’. Although they are equally annoying they have a slightly different intention and will be discussed further in another blog.
Your computer can catch a virus in many ways, either by surfing the Internet, receiving emails or by using a disc or USB key. However, emails are the main way to catch a computer virus unless you attempt to download ‘free stuff’ from the Internet. I personally receive on average 2 to 3 emails each day that attempt to infect my computer with a virus; you probably do to. Emails that contain these virus attachments are known as Phishing and they have two purposes, firstly they want to propagate themselves to my contacts and secondly to steal information from me to access my accounts.
A quick note about Phishing, criminals may not restrict themselves to Phish or ‘Fish’ for your sensitive information, you could equally be called on the telephone, receive a letter in the post or have someone knocking on your front door. The best policy is to refuse and ignore any of these requests.
As viruses today tend to target you for financial gain rather than disrupting your computer, it is essential that you do the following four things to protect yourself: Firstly, you should keep a backup of all your data, it should be second nature for you two keep a copy of all your documents, photographs and media on a second device or online. I will be discussing backups in another blog.
Secondly, you should purchase and install a reputable Internet Security program. Again I will be discussing how to do this and comparing some of the products in another bog. However, I do not recommend just relying on using one of the free Anti-Virus programs that are widely available. Why you may ask? Well, prevention is always better than cure and Anti-Virus programs generally only detect the virus once you have infected. Whereas Internet Security programs attempt to prevent you from catching the virus before you are infected. It’s a bit like an immunisation jab versus an antidote.
Thirdly, you should be very cautious when viewing your emails. Get out of the habit of just opening every message in your inbox and just take a moment to scrutinise and consider the sender, and the subject line. Delete any message that have a suspicious sender, heading or subject line. If you do receive an email that you think might be legitimate and credible such as from your bank or a delivery company then exercise caution when viewing the email. Examine the sender’s email address to see if its genuine by right clicking on the address. If the message says its from a bank but the email address domain differs then you know it’s a phishing attack. For instance, if you see an email from me, examine the address domain which is the bit after the @ sign (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you see something that doesn’t look right you know its not from me – delete it immediately.
Lastly, avoid downloading free stuff from the internet. You’ve heard of ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ right? Well there’s no such thing as ‘free stuff’ on the internet. Companies may offer you free programs and software but they always want something from you, either your contact details to send you unwanted junk mail or to get you to purchase something from them later.
You may also be tempted to look for and download free media on the internet in the form of music and videos. I would recommend against it, because at the very least you will be bombarded with advertising that is not only annoying and may take over your search engines but may fill up your computer with bloated temporary files that will eventually grind your computer to a halt. At worst you run the risk of infecting your computer with some very nasty and difficult to remove viruses. I have seen these viruses and they can completely lock up your computer, demanding a fee of around £100 to not only remove the infection but also report you to the authorities - Guess what? Even if you pay, the virus doesn’t go away the gangs just keep coming back for more.
If you catch a virus of any kind on your computer don’t panic. Your immediate concerns will undoubtedly be have I lost my data, have I damaged my computer and have I forwarded the virus to my contacts. The first step you should take to ensure these concerns are not realised is to stop using the computer, ensure it is not connected to the internet, disconnect any external drives or USB keys and switch it off and seek help.
If you have a recent backup of your data, you can attempt to remove the virus yourself by following the guide in one of my other blogs, or by resetting your computer back to its factory state. However if you do ‘reset’ your computer you may lose third party programs you’ve installed, your settings and new operating systems you have upgraded to.
If you don’t have a recent backup I would recommend you seek the help from a professional like me to ensure your valuable data is protected and your computer restored. One final word of warning some well-known computer shops offering virus removal simply ‘reset’ your computer and do not protect your data.