Have you ever stopped to think about exactly why computer viruses are named as such? Since the explosion of the home computer market decades ago computer viruses have existed, infecting computers destroying data and wreaking havoc anywhere they go. But how did they get their name?
Simply put, computer viruses earned their name because they act much like human viruses that sicken and even kill people each and every year. The only real difference is they don’t attach themselves to human cells. Instead, they attach themselves to files and lurk hidden on your hard drive just waiting for the right time to do their damage.
Human Viruses and Computer Viruses Defined
Before we continue, let’s look at how a basic dictionary defines a virus:
- an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.
- a piece of code that is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect, such as corrupting the system or destroying data.
Amazing how today that the simple term virus can actually mean either a disease that infects humans or a piece of code that can infect a computer. It all comes down to how similar they actually are. Both human viruses and computer viruses share many similar characteristics and act almost identically to one another.
Where Viruses Thrive
Human viruses can and do spread even in the cleanest of environments, but they are much more common in dirty areas where sanitation is, shall we say, more relaxed. The dirtier the area, the better it is for viruses.
Like their human counterparts, computer viruses also find havens in the dirtier places of the Internet. Sites such as porn sites or other sites that support various illegal activities like piracy are often home to many types of viruses for computers. If you frequent these types of sites, it is not a question of if you will get a virus, it’s just a question of when.
Transmission of Viruses
First, let’s look at exactly how viruses, both human and computer, are transmitted. Many human viruses can be transmitted in the air from person to person or if someone comes in contact with fluids of an infected person. A computer virus, on the other hand, can be contracted if you are on a Wi-Fi network sharing files with an infected computer or if you insert a drive in a computer containing the infected file. Sounds pretty similar, does it not?
Human viruses are more likely to be spread in public areas and infected people can then bring the virus home to infect their families as well. Computer viruses, just like human viruses, thrive on public networks such as airport Wi-Fi and other free public networks that have access to the Internet.
In most cases of the transmission of viruses, you can be infected by people who don’t even know they have it. Computer viruses operating much the same way. When you share files with friends or family members that are infected, chances are you will be infected as well. In most cases, your friend won’t even know they are infected and helping to spread a potentially dangerous computer virus when they are sharing their infection with you and other people as well.
We have all gotten sick and simply ignored it and refused to get any treatment or even visit a doctor. While sometimes our immune systems can fight off this infection, there are times when a virus can simply overwhelm our system making us even sicker than before. In the end, you end up sicker than you would have been if you had just paid a visit to your doctor from the beginning.
Computer viruses operating in a similar manner. Some viruses operate in the background and never give even a hint of their existence. However, most viruses will provide you with many clues that your computer has become infected. If you just ignore these initial signs, you give the virus time to work and put your computer at further risk.
Signs Your Computer Is Infected
Unlike a human virus that causes you to feel run down or gives you a runny nose and a cough, computer viruses give very different warning signs. The most common are:
- Slow Computer – If one day you notice that your computer is running slower than normal and restarting it doesn’t seem to help, you could have a virus.
- Random Crashes and Freezes – When viruses run unchecked on your computer you could start to notice that your computer seems to freeze randomly and applications that once worked will crash for no reason.
- Strange Error Messages – Strange error messages popping up on your desktop while you work is a tell tale sign of having an
- Boot Failure – Some of the nastiest viruses can damage the files on your hard drive making it impossible to boot once it has been shut down. If everything seemed fine one day and then next it won’t boot, you either have a hard drive problem or your computer has caught some type of cold.
While there are other signs, chances are no matter what virus your computer contracts, it will cause at least one of these types of symptoms. If you ignore these symptoms, you could be looking at even more damage down the road as the virus is able to replicate itself and take over your system.
Just like human viruses, computer viruses not only cause a wide range of symptoms but also have many different types of effects from very mild and minor to very serious and potentially devastating.
Human viruses such as the common cold will simply make you feel bad while giving you a runny nose and a cough. But, more serious viruses such as certain strains of flu and HIV can cause you to become very sick and can even result in your death.
The same goes for computer viruses. Some are more of a nuisance causing pop-up ads and other annoying things that interrupt your work and slow your computer down. However, some are far more serious. These viruses will steal your files and other personal information that could lead to credit card theft or even identity theft. Some viruses, however, are only in it for the destruction. These viruses replicate themselves and destroy any file in their path. This can cause you to lose valuable data you have stored on your computer. Some seek to destroy the operating system itself. When this happens, you will quickly find that your computer won’t function and, in some cases, it won’t even boot up.
Just like human viruses, computer viruses do a variety of damage to your computer ranging from the very mild to highly severe. But regardless of what type of virus your computer does contract, you need to try to protect your computer from ever getting these infections in the first place, and if you do, you will need a little medication to help get rid of it once and for all.
Immunize your Computer
Humans have basically three types of defenses against viruses. These are:
- Our Immune System
- Anti-Viral Drugs
Our immune systems protect us from many viruses that we come in contact with and we don’t even know it happened. Others, while they may show symptoms, are still ultimately defeated by our immune systems. For those viruses that are bodies simply can’t handle alone, there are vaccinations to help make us immune to them such as those for measles, mumps, and polio. When there isn’t a vaccination, there are anti-viral drugs that attack the virus and give our immune systems a helping hand. In many ways, our lifestyle also plays a role. Where we go and what we do increases or decreases our risk of contracting viruses even though sometimes it ultimately cannot be avoided.
Computers have similar defenses to viruses as well, although they do come in a little different form. In essence, though, they function just like the defenses against human viruses. The most common defenses against computer viruses are:
• Anti Virus Software
• Special Virus Removal Tools
• Computing Lifestyle
Much like human viruses, how we use our computer can often determine the risk that it is exposed to a virus. Where we go and what we download can open the door to viruses if we are visiting sites that aren’t necessarily legit. To protect a computer from viruses, one often uses anti-virus software. This software functions much like vaccinations and our immune system. It continually runs in the background blocking potential viruses from infecting our computer and cleaning those that do managed to work their way in. In some cases, however, more help is needed. In this case, many security companies produce special virus removal tools to help you get rid of a specific virus that your anti-virus software can’t remove on its own.
As you can see, there are many similarities between human and computer viruses. In fact, they are more alike than many people know. Like a human virus, computer viruses lurk in many of the darkest places of the Internet just waiting to infect your computer when you pay those sites a visit. But, that isn’t the only place where they can be found. Often you will find them on your friend’s computer or on a USB stick that you brought home from the office. Like human viruses, computer viruses may be lurking almost anywhere just waiting for the right time to infect your computer and go on a path of destruction.
Like human viruses, computer viruses can cause a variety of symptoms and they all differ in the rate of which they spread and the damage they can do. Just like a human virus, the threat of infection should always be taken seriously by every computer user on the planet. You don’t take human viruses lightly, after all. So why would you want to ignore a computer virus when, in the end, they are so similar to the human variety.
It is important that you take the proper measures to be sure your computer is protected with the right vaccinations by running up to date antivirus software that has a reputation for success. If you don’t, you could find yourself unprepared for an infection that could potentially steal your data and even your identity or destroy your files that could even stop your computer in its tracks requiring professional assistance.
Remember, the threat of computer viruses is much like the threat of human viruses. They want to spread as much as possible causing destruction as they go. So take the proper steps to protect yourself from human viruses and your computer from computer viruses and you can go on to live a healthy and happy life working on your computer each day without having to worry about the problems that could come if your computer becomes infected.