Computer viruses first emerged in the 1980s. Since then, they have posed problems for computer users worldwide. Unfortunately, most are here to stay.
Computer viruses are now so common that even IT experts have a hard time identifying and monitoring these pesky cyber contaminants. When the Internet first appeared, viruses were not a problem. Internet users had the luxury of sharing and downloading photos, files, and folders as they pleased. However, with the advancement of Internet technology, viruses began to emerge. At best, these viruses are a nuisance and may limit the functionality of a computer for a day or two. However, they can also be downright destructive, and may paralyze entire corporate networks, causing significant losses in reputation and revenue. Viruses may also erase entire datasets from computers, and can rob individuals of their identity. Once installed, they are often very difficult to remove, and it may take days or weeks, and quite a bit of money, to have them successfully uninstalled.
How Computer Viruses Began
The first malicious computer program was ‘Elk Cloner.’ This virus emerged in the early 1980s, launched by its creators as a practical joke. Elk Cloner primarily infected video games, but it gave computer criminals the idea to replicate those malicious tactics via the web. Working individually or in groups, cybercriminals got to work, and quickly produced viruses intended to cause serious harm to targeted users and networks. At first, they implanted the virus into unsuspecting computers using floppy disks and zip drives. Cybercriminals loaded viruses onto those disks and drives then uploaded them on targeted computers. However, the growth of the Internet, while good for social media, businesses, and individual use, brought greater opportunities for cybercriminals to infect more systems, at a faster rate, than floppy disks and zip drives.
Types of Computer Viruses
While new viruses emerge virtually on a daily basis, they fall into several specific categories.
- Boot sector viruses target a computer’s boot sector, which is a sector on modern computers where operating system boot information is stored. These viruses were more common during the early computer virus days, as they are spread primarily through floppy disks and external drives.
- Browser hijackers are another category of viruses. These spread in several ways over the web, including voluntary downloads. They manipulate browser functions, and re-direct users to particular (harmful) sites.
- Direct action viruses lie dormant until activated by the end user. They are transported to targeted computers in files, but only cause harm when the files are downloaded and opened.
- File infector viruses originate in host files, then set to work crippling systems once those files are activated. These viruses may overwrite some or all of the files they infect, and are one of the most common viruses.
- Macro viruses are dispersed through several programs and methods. Criminals program them into documents, which appear benign, but manifest as malicious documents once downloaded and shared.
- Multipartite viruses can spread in several ways, and may perform different functions on different computers. These viruses are quite difficult to remove since they infect through multiple channels.
- Polymorphic viruses are quite dangerous, as they multiply rapidly and mutate over time. They change with each execution, which makes it very difficult to eradicate them.
- Resident viruses weasel their way into a computer system’s memory then spread from their original files to other files and programs.
- Web scripting viruses are particularly problematic for users whose sites contain videos, photographs, and other visual files. Cybercriminals exploit the specific codes linked to those sites and, then, re-code the language to launch their viruses.
Looking into the Future
Unfortunately, on the macroscopic level, most experts believe there is no way to permanently eradicate viruses. There are too many of them, and they are too complex to be removed permanently, and as a whole, from the internet. Furthermore, while the expansion of technologies, such as handheld mobile devices and apps make many aspects of life easier for businesses and consumers, it presents more opportunities for the spread of viruses. However, virus control and elimination on a microscopic level looks more promising.
Certain viruses are easier to destroy than others, and you can take preventative or remedial action yourself to remove them or prevent them from harming your computer in the first place. Antivirus programs such as Immunet are quite user-friendly, affordable, and effective for finding and destroying computer viruses. While you won’t be able to fix the global computer virus epidemic with antivirus software, you can at least prevent harm to your own computer or your company’s computer network.
The evolving sophistication of the internet, computers, and technology provides many great opportunities for businesses and consumers. However, it also provides a means of exploitation for cybercriminals, who use these same technologies for malicious activities. While there does not appear to be an end in sight for computer viruses, you can take simple actions to keep your computer safe.