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Why Do I Still Get Viruses?

By: Darren Miller

Viruses & Anti-Virus Software

Many people have Anti-Virus software installed. Many of the major Anti-Virus software company's now promote what they call "Security Suites" or packages. These Security Suites contain everything from Anti-Virus, Firewall Protection, SPAM and Pop-Up blockers, and Ad-ware protection. Quite often, once the software is installed people find out that things they use to be able to do on the Internet are no longer possible. So what happens is portions or all of the software they purchased to protect their computer get disabled. The result, an ineffective software program that you paid good money for! Worst than that, most people have no idea exactly how the Anti-Virus portion of the package should be configured. Leaving it up to the default configuration to defend their computers. Most of the manuals that come with these software packages seem to be written for those who understand the intricate workings of computers along with every computer acronym ever invented!

Most everyone who owns a computer knows about viruses. Years ago, viruses were more of an annoyance than anything. But as time passed those who develop viruses became more astute at their trade and started developing viruses with malicious intent.

It's amazing that we regularly find computers without any anti-virus protection at all. Typically, those who do not, find out rather quickly how important virus protection is. In addition to the many computers we find without virus protection, we find many computers do not have the anti-virus software configured and running properly to protect them from even the most basic type of infection.

What is a Virus?

A virus is a type of program that can execute on your computer and has the ability to replicate itself. Computer viruses, like biological viruses, spread quickly and in many cases , are quite difficult to stop and destroy. They can attach themselves to many types of files. As these files are transferred between multiple computers each computer along the away becomes infected and has the ability to continue spreading the infection.

What is a Trojan?

A Trojan is software that can perform unauthorized tasks on your computer. More often than not, these tasks are malicious in nature. The biggest difference between a trojan and a virus is that Viruses have the ability to replicate whereas a Trojan typically does not. If your computer becomes infected with a Trojan it can cause;

Damage to your computers software, Operating System, and data;

Your system can become unstable and exhibit unexpected behavior;

The security of your system becomes compromised;

It could lead to the unauthorized access of your computer;

Beware programs and software in pretty packages (for free usually). Remember what happen to the Trojan's of Greek Mythology!

What is Malware?

The word "Malware" is short for "Malicious Software". It refers to any software or programs with malicious intent such as viruses, Trojans, worms, droppers, and kits. Just as a note, not all Malware should be considered a virus but the majority can be considered as such.

What can a Virus do to me?

There are many malicious actions a virus, worm, or general Malware can take. Just a few examples are;

Change or delete important data on your computer such as documents, music and video files, and possibly destroy all data on your computer;

Search for important information such as contact lists and use this information to replicate itself by sending everyone in your contact lists an e-mail with the virus/worm attached;

Spread amongst all your computers in various methods such as e-mail and file sharing;

Disguise itself as a legitimate part of the Operating System - making it very difficult to detect and destroy;

and just about anything else malicious you can think up!

Virus Life Cycle

Creation - In the past it took significant skill to create a virus. However, anyone with even basic skills can create a virus. In fact, there are virus creation labs freely available on the Internet. This can allow anyone to create interesting and potentially malicious code;

Replication - If one of the main goals of the virus developer is the replication or spread of the virus, many viruses will lay dormant and wait for a certain event to take place like a date something similar. This allows the virus to replicate to many systems before it activates;

Activation - Once certain requirements or conditions are met, the virus will activate itself and execute the code that causes damage to your computer. Not all virus cause damage. Non-damaging virus usually do not need activation;

Identification - Once the virus has infected computers and activated themselves in the wild (on your computer), they are isolated and documented and sent to the anti-virus companies;

Recognition - The anti-virus companies then develop the code necessary to detect the virus, update their virus signature patterns, and make them available to their customers. This process can be rather quick or can take days or months;

Destruction - If enough people are protected by anti-virus software that can detect, isolate, and destroy the virus, it can be stopped from spreading;

Based on current information and statistics no virus has yet to be completely eradicated!

How do I Protect my Computer?

The most obvious thing that you can do is install anti-virus software. In fact, this is not so much an option as it is a requirement. That is if you want to be protected and not A) lose everything you have on your computer, B) spread viruses to your friends, family and associates, C) be a productive part of the public network (Internet) community.

In addition, you need to make sure that your anti-virus software is functioning properly;

Make sure that your anti-virus subscription is not out of date. In some cases, if your subscription is out of date, the product ceases to function or can no longer download new virus patterns. Preventing it from detecting the latest viruses;

If you receive an unsolicited piece of e-mail do not open it. Delete the e-mail right away;

Many e-mail clients have the ability to give you a preview of the e-mail before actually opening it. If your e-mail client is configured this way, turn it off. This can actually allow the virus to activate the moment you highlight the e-mail;

If you receive e-mail from a friend or associate that you were not expecting, or one that has an odd subject line like "Subject: The pictures I promised you!" or "The program you requested", contact your fiend and ask them if they actually sent it;

Configure you anti-virus software to check for virus pattern updates on a frequent basis. Checking once a week is probably not good enough. At the very least, configure it to check at least once a day. Our systems check more frequently than that;

Make sure your anti-virus software is configured to perform a scheduled scan of your computer. Many people rely on the "real-time" scanning which is suppose to catch viruses in real-time as you select and open files. This is not 100% accurate and nothing substitutes for a thorough manual scan of "all" your system files

Don't rely on anti-virus software alone. Make sure that you are using some sort of anti ad-ware and spy-ware software. These programs can catch a plethora of malicious software that your anti-virus software may miss.


All it takes is one bad experience with a damaging virus to make you realize how vulnerable you and your computers are. Be diligent in your defense against Malware and your computer / Internet experience will be more enjoyable. The same goes for small and medium sized business. Those who have been down for a day or days as the result of a virus will know exactly what I am talking about.


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About The Author

Darren Miller is an Information Security Consultant with over sixteen years experience. He has written many technology & security articles, some of which have been published in nationally circulated magazines & periodicals. If you would like to contact Darren you can e-mail him at [email protected]. If you would like to know more about computer security please visit us at

This article was posted on January 26, 2006

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