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What are computer viruses and worms?

Not again!
Not again!Photo courtesy of jesadaphorn/freedigitalphotos.net

There are many different ways your computer can make you vulnerable to identity theft, fraud, and scams. Before knowing they exist, these cyber-crimes can financially destroy you. That’s why it’s so important to know about the dangers and how to protect against them. Two of the most prevalent are viruses and worms.

Viruses and worms are malicious, damaging computer programs. However, they’re not the same thing.

A computer virus attaches itself to an executable program or file. That means it can exist on your computer doing no harm as long as you don’t open or run it. However, if/when you do, your computer becomes immediately infected. Furthermore, it spreads the same contamination to other PCs.

Viruses spread when people share infected files, emails, and/or attachments. It’s mostly done unwittingly, leaving infections along its entire path. Depending on the type, consequences range from slightly irritating occurrences to critically damaging your hardware, software, or files.

Worms are actually sub-classes of viruses. They’re hard-to-detect, invisible files that also spread from one computer to another. Unlike viruses, they can travel without human action. That’s because they “tunnel through” your PC’s memory and hard drive, attaching themselves to files or other information on your system, and taking advantage of their moveable features.

Worms don’t change files on your computer. However, they can reproduce themselves, triggering all sorts of dangerous problems. One is the ability to send out thousands of cloned copies. Another is they can duplicate themselves so many times, they take up your computer’s entire memory or hard disk space, making your PC run very slowly, ineffectively, and possibly crash.

Worms also travel between systems and across networks. This allows them to consume excessive bandwidth, causing web and network servers as well as individual computers to stop working. Recently, the notorious “Blaster Worm” tunneled into systems allowing malevolent users to control victims' computer remotely!

When a worm affects your hard disk space, it’s difficult for your computer to access files, often making it impossible to save or create new ones. This problem can’t be remedied until the assailant is destroyed.

Viruses and worms can go unnoticed until they start causing performance problems. That’s why it’s so important to have good detecting and removing anti-virus programs installed on your computer. Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep up with the latest, most effective security updates. For your safety, always guard against these invaders.