The How Computer Viruses work.

HOW COMPUTER VIRUSES WORK
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How do computer viruses work?



With all the technological advancements that have been made over the past several decades, it seems that people can do just about anything with computers these days. With just a few clicks of the mouse and an online connection, we can talk to people halfway across the world, create programs that generate big business, and carry out our day-to-day lives – all while staring at a computer screen. But what happens when these advancements that we take for granted suddenly stop working? And not only stop working but actually cause a lot of damage. This is what happens when a computer virus works its way into any computer system. Computer viruses can not only stop a person short in whatever they’re trying to do, but they can lose companies and computer owners hundreds, thousands, or even billions of dollars. Computer viruses can be anything from a silly message spread throughout a single office, or they can be malicious pieces of information that spread throughout the globe. So what is a computer virus, and just how do they work?

Computer viruses work much the same way that biological viruses work. This is actually why they are called viruses. However, instead of a computer virus being passed from one person to another, they are passed from one computer to another. A biological virus requires a virus to attach itself to another cell in the body and pass the virus into the cell. The virus will then use the components of the healthy cell to reproduce itself. In this case, the cell will either become so full of the replicated virus cells that it eventually bursts, releasing the virus on to other cells, or the cells of the virus will simply use the healthy cell to launch the virus cells to other healthy cells one at a time. A computer virus works much the same way.

Instead of attaching itself to another healthy cell, computer viruses attach themselves to another healthy program within the computer, such as a spreadsheet program or an email program. Once the healthy program starts running, the computer virus will then be able to run, attach itself to other programs, and cause major destruction. Computer viruses, unlike biological viruses, are created by people. People write code that contains a computer virus, then test it to make sure that it works, and attach some form of action to the virus. That action is whatever the virus will do once it lands on a computer. Attaching this action is when the virus creator either makes the virus come up with a happy face on someone’s computer or erase their entire hard drive. There are a few reasons why people write such destructive viral codes. One is simply because they know how. And when they find a security loophole in a computer, they want to take advantage of it before someone else does. Others do it just for the thrill, just like others draw graffiti or break into cars simply for a thrill. And of course, there’s always bragging rights that go along with creating a particularly intricate and complicated virus that’s hard to crack. However, because government officials are starting to crack down on these virus creators that cause so much damage, those bragging rights might become a thing of the past!

Computer viruses have only been around for about thirty years. This is because before the 1980s, it was unheard of for PCs to be in homes and other computers were only used by experts and by the biggest businesses. However, during the 1980s, PCs became much more popular and today you can find one in just about any home. As soon as PCs became more popular in the late 1980s, people started thinking of ways that they could take advantage of them and create computer viruses. Another thing that helped computer viruses come to the forefront were computer bulletin boards. These bulletin boards were places that users could go on the Internet to download programs, such as games and spreadsheets, and put them right onto their computer. It was computer bulletin boards that were responsible for the creation of viruses such as the Trojan horse. Viruses that are labeled a Trojan horse are viruses that come under a different name and description than an actual virus. For instance, a Trojan horse virus might be a program that calls itself a really cool game and sounds like a lot of fun. Once the user has downloaded the program and launched it, the virus is then free to wreak havoc on their computer. The good news about Trojan horse viruses is that they don’t affect a lot of people. This is because once someone has been hit by a Trojan horse virus, they will most likely tell other people and people will not use it. Trojan horse viruses are also found very quickly and once found, they are removed. Trojan viruses also cannot replicate themselves automatically.

The same cannot be said however for viruses that come on floppy disks. Even though floppy disks are almost unheard of today, they were once the only storage that anyone had on their computer. Back in the 1980s, most computers didn’t even have hard drives. Instead, the operating system for the computer, some documents, and several programs all fit onto one floppy disk. Once the disk was inserted and the user started running it, the virus would run instead and cause significant damage to one’s computer system. It was the invention of the floppy disk virus that led to other viruses that could replicate themselves. When viruses replicate themselves, they first attach themselves to one program. When that program is opened, the virus will then find another program to attach itself to. Then, when the user opens either of these programs that are now both infected with the virus, it will continue to find another program to infect and so on and so on. But if viruses could only reproduce themselves, they wouldn’t be much of a problem. It’s not the reproduction of the virus that’s the problem. It’s the fact that after it reproduces, it will then attack the computer. This attack will have a specific action that will trigger the virus to attack. The triggers are different for every virus but they often include things such as a specific date, or after the virus has been replicated a certain amount of times.

One of the biggest computer virus threats when computers first started being so widely used was the boot sector virus. When a computer is first started, the operating system, which then was on a floppy disk, was the first thing to start running. The first part of that operating system is called the boot sector and tells the rest of the operating system how to load up the computer and allow it to run properly. The genius behind the boot sector virus was that creators of the virus could be sure that the virus would be executed because it happens right at the startup point. Boot sector viruses aren’t very common today because floppy disks are practically obsolete. In their place there are now CDs, which contain nearly every program that any computer will need to use. CDs cannot be manipulated or changed in any way once they are written and so, boot sector viruses can not be placed onto them. Instead, there are now other viruses that are much more common. One of these is the email virus.

Email viruses are, as the name implies, sent via email. An email virus will disguise itself as something such as a Word document. When a person receives the email with the document attached, they will open it and release the coding within the virus. That coding will then attach itself to the person’s email address book and will send the virus to everyone in the address book. Many times, these email viruses will include things such as the person’s name or a short personal message so that the victim will think it’s harmless and open the message with the virus attached. Microsoft has taken care of this problem by placing Macro Virus Protection into their programs. This feature will let users know that there is possibly a virus attached to whatever they are about to open. Unfortunately, many users don’t know what the warning dialogue box means so they open the attachment anyway or they simply ignore it as their computer being ‘paranoid’ and will open the attachment. Their computer will then become infected with the virus.

Worm viruses are also newer forms of viruses that attach themselves to something. Instead of a program however, they will attach themselves to a computer that’s within a network and will spread itself to other computers in that network. Worms will find a security breach within one computer and will use that breach to work itself into other computers. Once onto another computer, it will then find another breach and infect other computers. Worms can be spread extremely quickly and can virtually shut down entire networks of computers within mere minutes. The Code Red worm was a particularly dangerous worm that infected over 250,000 computers within a period of nine hours. Software and computer manufacturers, along with many IT specialists are always looking for new ways to combat worms including security patches that can be downloaded onto a computer. These patches virtually fill the security breach so that worms cannot be passed through it and onto other computers.

But all hope is not lost and people don’t simply have to rely on the hope that a virus doesn’t land on their computer. There are many security measures that any computer user can take to protect themselves against computer viruses. Traditional viruses, although less common now, can be protected against by running a more secure operating system such as Unix on a computer. Viruses on these types of operating systems are virtually unheard of because no one except the authorized user ever has access to the hard drive. For operating systems such as MAC or Windows, it’s extremely important to place some virus protection such as Norton or McAffey on the computer to keep it safe and protected against viruses. It’s also important to never open any executable attachments that come with email messages. Files that have a EXE, COM, or VBS are executable programs. Once you open them, you give them free access to your computer, allowing them to do whatever they wish. Programs found on the Internet are much more vulnerable to viruses than programs that are purchased on CD. Because of this, buying software from manufacturers that comes on its own CD is sure to be a better safeguard against viruses than downloading programs online. Lastly, it’s also very important to stay informed on what new security patches can be downloaded to protect PCs. By taking these few simple steps, you can be sure that you are doing what you can to save yourself major headaches down the road.


Computer Viruses.

 How Computer Viruses work.