Myths have always been a part of human culture, and can be found in nearly every aspect of life, including the computer. One of the larger computer-based myths revolves around malware, more specifically the virus. Many users are familiar with the concept but have a tough time distinguishing between what is true and what isn't. Are you one of them?
Here are five common myths about viruses that confuse people, and the truths associated with them. Before we delve deeper it would be a good idea to explain what a virus is.
A virus is a computer program that infects a computer and can generally copy itself and infect other computers. Most viruses aim to cause havoc by either deleting important files or rendering a computer inoperable. Most viruses have to be installed by the user, and usually come hidden as programs, browser plugins, etc.
You may hear the term malware used interchangeably with virus. Malware is short for malicious software and is more of an umbrella term that covers any software that aims to cause harm. A virus is simply a type of malware.
Myth 1: Error messages = virus
A common thought many have when their computer shows an error message is that they must have a virus. In truth, bugs in the software, a faulty hard drive, memory or even issues with your virus scanner are more likely the cause. The same goes with if your computer crashes, it likely could be because of something other than a virus.
When you do see error messages, or your computer crashes while trying to run a program or open a file, you should scan for viruses, just to rule it out.
Myth 2: Computers can infect themselves
It's not uncommon to have clients bring their computers to a techie exclaiming that a virus has magically appeared on the system all by itself. Despite what some may believe, viruses cannot infect computers by themselves. Users have to physically open an infected program, or visit a site that hosts the virus and download it.
To minimize the chance of being infected you should steer clear of any adult oriented sites - they are often loaded with viruses, torrent sites, etc. A good rule of thumb is: If the site has illegal or 'adult' content, it likely has viruses that can and will infect your system if visited, or files downloaded from there.
Myth 3: Only PCs can get viruses
If you read the news, you likely know that many of the big viruses and malware infect mostly systems running Windows. This has led users to believe that other systems like Apple's OS X are virus free.
The truth of the matter is: All systems could be infected by a virus, it's just that the vast majority of them are written to target Windows machines. This is because most computers run Windows. That being said, there is an increasing number of threats to OS X and Linux, as these systems are becoming more popular. If this trend keeps up, we will see an exponential rise in the number of viruses infecting these systems.
Myth 4: If I reinstall Windows and copy all my old files over, I'll be ok
Some believe that if their system has been infected, they can simply copy their files onto a hard drive, or backup solution, reinstall Windows and then copy their files back and the virus will be gone.
To be honest, wiping your hard drive and reinstalling Windows will normally get rid of any viruses. However, if the virus is in the files you backed up, your computer will be infected when you move the files back and open them. The key here is that if your system is infected, you need to scan the files and remove the virus before you put them back onto your system.
Myth 5: Firewalls protect networks from viruses
Windows comes with a firewall built into the OS, and many users have been somewhat misled as to what it actually does, and that firewalls can protect from viruses. That's actually a half truth. Firewalls are actually for network traffic, their main job is to keep networks and computers connected to the network secure; they don't scan for viruses.
Where they could help is if a virus is sending data to a computer outside of your network. In theory, a firewall will pick up this traffic and alert you to it, or stop the flow of data outright. Some of the bigger viruses actually turn off the firewall, rendering your whole network open to malware attacks.
What can I do?
There are many things you can do to minimize the chances of infection. The most important is to install a virus scanner on all of your systems, keep it up to date and run it regularly. But a defensive strategy like this isn't enough, you need to be proactive by:
- Not installing programs from sources you don't know or trust
- Being weary of any program that asks you for your password
- Not installing any browser add-ons or plugins suggested by websites. Instead, download them from the browser's app store, or the developer's website.
If you are worried about the security of your systems and network, call us today. Our team of security experts can work with you to provide a plan that will meet your needs.