As the Internet continues to evolve, so does the threat posed by computer viruses. If you haven't yet been directly exposed to a computer virus, you've probably at least heard of some of them. They go by names like Melissa, LoveLetter, Gokar Worm, Disemboweler and Klez.
What is a computer virus, anyway? By definition, it is a piece of code that is loaded onto your computer and runs without your consent. While some viruses are benign, others can be quite nasty, destroying your computer's hard drive, erasing everything on it.
At present time, there are more than 30,000 known strains of computer viruses. Given that fact, odds are pretty good that you'll encounter one at some point. It's how well prepared you are for that encounter that will make the difference between minor inconvenience and major catastrophe. Here are some basic tips for preventing and dealing with computer viruses:
The single biggest thing you can do to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a computer virus is to educate yourself as to how they spread. There are two major ways in which a virus can infect your computer-via removable media such as CDs and floppy disks, and from downloading from the Internet or e-mail. E-mail seems to be especially susceptible to worms, a special type of virus that replicates itself. As a general precaution, you should never open an e-mail attachment unless you know the source.
One way to protect yourself from computer viruses is to invest in some virus detection software. At a cost of $50 to $100, this may seem like more than you'd care to spend, but it's miniscule compared to the time, money and headaches that a virus may yield.
Regardless of what other steps you take to prevent viruses, always be on the lookout for symptoms. Some of the more common indicators that you have a virus on your computer include missing programs or files, programs that cease working properly, strange pop-up messages, loss of system memory and disk names being changed.
Should you begin to experience these symptoms, or other types of odd behavior, you'll want to take appropriate action. If you have virus protection software already installed on your computer, try to get it to disinfect and repair the damaged files. If not, you will likely need to manually delete the corrupted files from your system (unless you feel confident that you know what you are doing, I strongly advise contacting an expert to handle this). Additionally, as a courtesy, you should contact anyone with whom you recently exchanged any type of data with (e.g. e-mail, FTP uploads/downloads, floppy disks, etc.) so that they may be on the lookout for symptoms.
Almost as big a problem as viruses themselves are virus hoaxes. A virus hoax is typically a "chain letter" e-mail that encourages you to forward the message on to all of your contacts. Some of the more extreme virus hoaxes may actually try to convince you to delete files off your computer needlessly. Learn how to identify virus hoaxes and investigate any kind of request-for-action thoroughly before taking action.