Computer Viruses – Overview

matrix-2953869_640No, there is no need to go running out the door screaming. Yes, of course viruses, of whatever nature, are problematic and can result in difficulties but these are not insurmountable.

This is a vast topic with multiple variations and one that, regrettably, affects many computer and internet users. It is a fellow author’s recent experience that has given rise to this discussion. No doubt many others have also suffered. Authors, especially independent (indie) ones, due to their need to connect with fellow authors as well as reviewers, readers, fans etc. and the requirement to have an online presence including the utilisation of social media, tend to be a little more vulnerable than most lay users.

As said this is a vast topic and users will have experienced differing situations and scenarios. Consequently, in an endeavour to cover as much as possible, there will be a series of periodic articles, broken into identifiable segments. This one is simply intended to provide an overview of the subject.

Definition

A computer virus is principally a piece of code or software that is able to copy and replicate itself. It is generally malicious. The virus is usually designed to corrupt or modify a computer system though it may also corrupt or destroy other data. The ultimate intention of cyber criminals, who create these viruses, may be varied but primarily they are out to either gain control (for nefarious purposes) or money (effectively theft).

Note 1: These corruptions are often, colloquially, referred to as ‘viruses’ however, they are really a form of ‘malware’ (malicious ware). The term encompasses a myriad of different types that will become clearer as this, and subsequent, discussions progress.

Note 2: It is mostly Microsoft systems that are targeted. Probably because, worldwide, it is the most used system, both professionally and privately. However, that does not mean Apple’s systems are immune.

Note 3: Both individual and networked computers may be affected. Nevertheless, as most of those reading this will be private individuals (principally indie authors and book readers) discussion will centre upon how home computers may be impacted.

Note 4: Readers should note these malicious viruses not only impact computers but also mobile devises such as smartphones and tablets. The increasing use of smartphones for all aspects of life make them a valuable target.

Note 5: There are a myriad of different named viruses users will have undoubtedly encountered or heard of. It is not possible, relevant or appropriate to try and discuss them all. Consequently, discussions will centre upon some of the better known: Most viruses tend to impact systems in similar ways.

Brief History

1970 – First attack on internet forerunner ARPANET system.
1982 – First ‘Personal’ computer attack. (i.e. individual computer in a work environment.)
1987 – First ‘Home’ computer infected. (Achieved by user clicking on a link that activated the virus.)
1992 – First attack to target Microsoft Windows.

Recognition

Most viruses, though not all, result in an unexpected pop-up or full screen warning or invitation of which there are many variations:

  • Warning that computer has a virus.
  • Advert promising to delete viruses, protect privacy, improve functionality, clean registry etc.
  • Alert about malicious software or illegal pornography. (In earlier times, Russian cyber criminals used pornography to frighten victims, with the threat of law enforcement intervention etc., into submitting to their demands. May still be seen today but perhaps not on the same scale.)
  • Invitation to download free software for security scan purposes or to improve system.
  • States security software is out of date and computer is in immediate danger.
  • Claims to have performed a security scan and prompts to download new software.
  • Etc.

Be Aware!: These pop-ups/warnings can look very sophisticated and genuine and may purport to be from valid, familiar, computer/software companies such as Microsoft.

Messages normally contain one, or a combination, of the following statements:

  • The computer is locked and cannot be used until a fee is paid for it to be cleared.
  • User must telephone a given number. (Normally ends with demand for a payment.)
  • A new piece of software must be downloaded. (Usually after payment of a fee.)

Terminology and content may vary but inevitably the end result is the same: The user is required to make a payment to receive the service/software.

Users SHOULD NOT COMPLY!

Initial resolution

It is a fact these pop-ups/messages often appear to lock the screen/computer/device. However, the user should not panic. There are some initial actions they may take.

  • Close the browser by using CTL-ALT-DELETE or equivalent. DO NOT click on any alternatives within the pop-up or message such as ‘NO’ “CANCEL’ or the usual ‘X’ in top right corner. Doing so could result in activation of malware and damage to the computer system.
  • If cannot close browser as above, go to Task Manager or equivalent and click ‘END TASK’.
  • If neither works: Try turning computer power of.
  • If all of the above fail: Contact the antivirus software company utilised for the computer. (Hopefully, users have the company’s details recorded elsewhere. If not, utilise a different device, if available, to search for contact details, preferably telephone as will need fairly immediate action.)

Once the browser (Chrome; Firefox; Edge; Safari; etc.) has been closed, and if not done simultaneously, the computer should be shut down. When turned back on, users should ensure a full antivirus scan is run. (Most antivirus software systems have the option to manually request a scan – use the full scan facility rather than the ‘quick’ option.)

As stated, the above are just some initial actions to try. There are other, slightly more involved, procedures a user may also need to consider. These will be mentioned within subsequent, relevant, discussions.

Above all: Users should not telephone the designate number or pay any fee. (Their existing antivirus company will advice them if new software is required.)

Prevention

Note: The following will be repeated time and again in various discussions.

It is important to constantly remember these points in daily activity.

Because Cyber criminals use a variety of means to spread viruses, users need to be aware of and, if possible, avoid the following:

  • Clicking on any e-mail attachment when the e-mail is not from a recognised source.
  • Opening any e-mail that looks dubious or is again from an unrecognised source.
  • Visiting unknown websites (includes blogs) or following links to one if it has been provided by someone not known or not from a recognised group.
  • Downloading software from an unknown company or source.
  • Downloading anything from an unconfirmed website or contained in an advertisement by unknown company or person.

It is appreciated this can be limiting and in some circumstances difficult to cope with, especially for an indie author who is always looking for advice and help and new contacts. The test is to decide whether the site or person looks genuine or whether their validity can be confirmed by a search or equivalent (e.g. does anyone they know also know or recommend the site/person).

Malware may be spread by a variety of different means beside those mentioned above. Some of these will be covered within relevant, subsequent, articles.

Conclusion

Regrettably, cyber crime is on the increase with many more devious tricks and deceptions being developed on an almost daily basis.

Computer viruses/malware are a worry but can be overcome. Panic should be avoided as it will more than likely only lead to other mistakes.

Fake pop-ups and messages are usually recognisable by the fact they normally demand some sort of payment or require the user to telephone an unknown telephone number.

There are some initial actions a user may take to rid themselves of the problem. If all else fails their antivirus company should be able to help.

Common sense care will avoid a lot of virus attacks e.g. not opening e-mail attachments or downloading software packages etc. from unknown sources.

Virus attacks are not the end of the world. They may usually be dealt with though it has to be admitted they are a headache and worry until disposed of.

Some users think they have to get rid of their computer/device once it has been affected. That is not so though the system may need to be completely refreshed, cleaned or restored.

Disclaimer: The writer is not a computer programmer or in any other way a computer software expert. What is shared has been learnt through limited personal experience or through research. Consequently, though every effort has been made, total accuracy of all the above information cannot be guaranteed.


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