You may know a little about computer viruses and spyware. But do you know how much damage they can do--or how to prevent them? We do, and we're happy to share the information with you.
A computer virus is a program that can copy itself and infect a computer without your permission or knowledge. A virus can spread from one computer to another over a network, via email, through the internet, or on a CD, DVD, or USB drive. Some viruses are designed to damage other programs, delete files, or re-format your hard drive.
Spyware is a kind of software that monitors your online activity and is transmitted like a virus. It is often a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs downloaded from the Internet. Like viruses, new kinds of spyware are discovered every day. Spyware falls into these categories:
- Software that may be installed legitimately to provide security or workplace monitoring.
- Software with somewhat benign purposes associated with marketing data collection.
- Software that's maliciously installed, either as a general violation of a user’s privacy or to collect data to allow further attacks on the computer or online transactions.
How to prevent computer viruses and spyware.
The best thing you can do to prevent viruses or spyware is to install an anti-virus/anti-spyware program and update it regularly. There are several good, commercially available protection programs on the market (search for “anti-virus" and “anti-spyware"). Run your anti-virus program as recommended. Keep the automatic update and scanning features on at all times to make sure you're protected from the latest viruses and spyware. Heed any warnings your software provides.
When downloading a file from a web site or opening an attachment to an email, be sure you know the source. Only download files from known and trusted sites and individuals.
Email attachments can also contain viruses or spyware. If you get an unsolicited email with an attachment, don't download it. If your email software downloads it automatically, don't open it. Delete the file and run your anti-virus software. Then disable the automatic download of attachments in your email preferences.
Most website operators are careful to make sure there are no viruses on their systems. But it's still possible to get a virus or spyware from a website. Updated anti-virus/anti-spyware software installed on your computer will normally recognize the virus and stop it. To protect yourself, only download from familiar sites and run a virus scanner on the files you download.