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My Computer Stopped — I Must Have a Virus
If your computer stops, it could be because of a virus, but I doubt it. Bottom line: It’s in a virus’s best interest to let the computer continue to operate so the virus can continue to use the computer to spread itself to other computers. The “best” biological viruses in nature (what a concept) are like this, too. If they kill their host too quickly, there goes their opportunity to spread. A “better” biological virus — like a computer virus — will perhaps just make its host sick, but still well enough to keep spreading the virus.

That said, a virus writer could construct a virus that caused severe data damage only after it had been on the computer for an extended period of time. However, there is the risk (to the virus writer) that the virus might be detected and eliminated by antivirus software prior to the time it is programmed to inflict damage. If my computer stopped, I’d suspect hardware or Windows, in that order. I keep my antivirus program, firewalls (hardware and software), and antispyware software in good working order, so I’d suspect a virus last of all.

I Have Antivirus Software, So My Computer Can’t Get a Virus
Wrong answer. Even with antivirus software, several different factors can still mean that a virus can get in and/or hide in your computer:

_ If you fail to keep your antivirus signatures up to date, then any new virus may be able to get inside your computer.
_ If the “real-time” antivirus mechanism in your antivirus software is turned off or deactivated (this can and does happen in the real world from time to time), then the virus can walk right into your computer while the antivirus program is sleeping.
_ A brand-new virus can get into your computer even if you keep your antivirus signatures up to date. Remember, it can take a few days or longer for the antivirus software companies to detect, capture, and dissect new viruses before they can update their signature files. Even then, your computer will be protected only after it downloads the new signature file from the antivirus software company.
_ If you’ve been running your computer prior to getting antivirus software and you’ve put any files on it from any outside source — even if you’ve never connected to the Internet — there could already be a virus on your computer. If you don’t follow the installation procedures and skip the all-computer scan that most antivirus programs want to do when they’re first installed, it’s possible that a virus that you caught earlier is still be lurking in there.

All Viruses Are Destructive
I disagree with all statements that say all. (Well, most of them anyway.) Okay, word games aside, some viruses exist only to replicate themselves, and other than that, they do nothing harmful. But a purist would say that even these are harmful, because they upset their computers’ feng shui. A system with even a benign virus is tainted, and there could someday be some unintended consequence of that. Bottom line: This one’s arguable either way. Wanna have some fun? Get a couple of cyber-philosophers in a room and watch them argue this one for a couple of hours.

Viruses Can Damage Computer Hardware
I know I’m going to get into trouble with this one. Some expert out there is going to have a good counter-argument, but for the most part, this fear is false. Here’s how it looks from the virus writer’s perspective: Why aim for the hardware when there’s so much brittle software that can be damaged? Go for the easy target first. Besides, if the virus hurts the hardware, how’s it going to spread itself any further? The purist would argue that a virus can damage computer hardware by giving it instructions that make the system misuse some part of itself (for example, by writing excessively to the hard drive), but few such hardware-eating viruses have been released. This is partly because there are so many different types, makers, and formats of computer hardware that one virus would be hard put to trash all of them. Besides, nearly all computer hardware has built-in safeguards that prevent any real damage. But if you do get a virus and see sparks or flames shooting out of your computer or keyboard, please catch it on video and send it to me.

Viruses Can Hide inside Data Files
Hmmmm, well, this is theoretically possible, but I have not heard of such a virus. Yet. For now, viruses hide inside computer programs — and in the places where programs normally hang out (such as the boot sector of a floppy disk or a hard drive). By definition, data files aren’t executable, and viruses have to be executed. It’s safest to say that viruses hide only in executable program files. But wait. . . . Macro viruses are found in Word and Excel documents, so if this is what you mean by data files, then you’re correct. Other than this, generally viruses do not live inside data files.

Pictures Can Give You Computer Viruses
Nope. Well, not yet. Pictures are just data files that are read by special programs. But, someday, someone may come up with a picture file format that accommodates the inclusion of computer instructions — for whatever purpose someone dreams up. Are you thinking “macro virus” right now? So am I. Anytime someone comes up with a way to store data that includes a place for simple computer instructions (like Microsoft Word and Excel do), then the risk of malicious instructions becomes a real risk.

I Need More Than One Antivirus Software Program to Be Fully Protected
No, and no. Here’s what I mean. As long as you stick with one of well-known brands of antivirus programs, you’ll find that they all develop new virus signatures at about the same time. So if you’re thinking of switching from to because you think that gets their virus definitions out sooner, I personally wouldn’t waste my time.

You Can’t Get a Virus from an Official Software CD
I wish. It’s rare, but it has happened, and it very well could happen again. The big software companies have very good and almost byte-tight procedures that eliminate the possibility that a virus can sneak into a software development lab and from there to a CD master. It can happen. I wouldn’t laugh at you if you scanned CDs for viruses before installing software from them. Promise.

Antivirus Software Companies Create Viruses
To put it kindly, I don’t think so. Do the math: The antivirus companies have enough business trying to keep up with viruses “in the wild” that they’d be idiots to risk causing trouble for themselves. This sounds as crazy as Microsoft and Intel being in cahoots to keep us buying newer computers! Makes an entertaining (if trite) premise for a movie, maybe; doesn’t hold up so well in reality.

Some Countries Sponsor Virus Writers and Hackers
Gotcha. This one’s actually true. Three or four countries do have state-sponsored hackers. I shouldn’t name these countries by name, but many of them are known to be hostile to the United States in other ways. Some of these same countries sponsor hackers in order to give us a little trouble. Official attempts to disrupt and break into foreign information technology go back at least as far as the British code breakers who figured out the Nazi “Enigma” encryption machine in World War II. The adversaries have changed over the years, but their struggle has kept pace with the development of cyberspace, and it continues today.


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