Tech Time: Viral Infections of a Digital Nature

Of course, the major disadvantage of hoax email is the likelihood of computer virus infection. Recently, people have used the term computer virus to refer to a wide spectrum of malware such as adware, spyware, worms and Trojan horses, but, by definition, a virus must execute code and write to memory.

Let’s leave the technical stuff behind for a moment and focus on how viruses and other malware affect our PC’s. Your PC may run slowly, programmes may start on their own or not work properly, crash frequently, your task manager or command prompt may fail to load, critical files may mysteriously disappear and whole range of other symptoms may affect your machine.

It’s hard to make a comprehensive list of virus symptoms, because it’s impossible to make a comprehensive list of viruses and other malware. New viruses are introduced every day. In addition to a host of new virus specifically designed to ruin your day, you may be infected by adware or botnets which are even harder to detect.

These days, the most common way to ‘catch’ a virus is through email. When we click on attachments with weird extensions, executable files, documents with embedded macros and files we don’t know, we make ourselves susceptible to infection. You can also get infected by introducing infected media into our computers through external USB drives, CD/DVD’s, SD cards and floppy discs. (C’mon, I know you remember floppy discs!)

Being vigilant is the best way to protect yourself from infection. But, since we are human and not perfect, good antivirus software is also HIGHLY recommended. There are several free and paid antivirus software programmes on the market.

Free programmes include my personal favourite, AVG, Avira AntiVir, Alwil Avast and Microsoft Security Essentials (available only in BETA). There are others. Norton Antivirus, McAfee, Panda and Kaspersky are the more popular paid antivirus software programmes.

Such programmes use a variety of different methods to detect and eradicate viruses including signature based detection, malicious activity detection, file analysis and file emulation. The combination of all four techniques increases the likelihood that it will detect new viruses, but antivirus protection is not foolproof. And to make matters worse, antivirus software can sometimes slow your machine down to a crawl.

Right now, right this very minute, back up your data and then install a good antivirus software application unless you are already infected. Do not install an antivirus programme if you are already infected. It’s a preventative, not a curative measure. If my advice has come too late, you many need to do a system restore from a date before you were infected, or worse, reinstall your OS and supporting software. But this is definitely the time to seek professional help. Novices should not be rebooting and trying other quick fixes, as this may make the problem elevate from mild annoyance to certified tragedy.

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