A computer virus definition

A computer virus is a program or piece of code designed to damage your computer by corrupting system files, wasting resources, destroying data or otherwise being a nuisance.

Viruses are unique from other forms of malware in that they are self-replicating — capable of copying themselves across files or other computers without a user’s consent.

Basically, they are really contagious.

How do computer viruses spread?
Here are some common ways in which you can get infected with a computer virus:

Email viruses

Email is one of the favorite means of transportation for computer viruses everywhere. You can get computer viruses through email by:
•Opening an attachment. Often named as something harmless (such as “Your flight itinerary”), an executable program file (.com, .exe, .zip, .dll, .pif, .vbs, .js, .scr) or macro file type (.doc, .dot, .xls, .xlt, xlsm, .xsltm…).
•Opening an email with an infected body. In these days of rich graphics and colors and bells and whistles, some viruses are being transported in the HTML body of the email itself. Many email services disable HTML by default until you confirm you trust the sender.

Instant messaging viruses

Instant messaging (IM) is another means for viruses to spread. Skype, Facebook Messenger, Windows Live Messenger and other IM services are inadvertently used to spread viruses to your contacts with infected links sent through chat messages.

These instant messaging and social media viruses spread wide and fast because it’s far easier to get people to click on a link when it’s delivered in a message coming from someone they trust, as opposed to a an email from a stranger.

File sharing viruses

Peer-to-peer file sharing services like Dropbox, SharePoint or ShareFile can be used to propagate viruses too. These services sync files and folders to any computer linked to a specific account, so when someone (inadvertently or otherwise) uploads a virus-infected file to a file-sharing account, that virus gets downloaded to everyone else with access to that shared folder.

Some file sharing services, such as Google Drive, scan uploaded files for viruses (although it only scans files smaller than 25MB, giving virus spreaders an easy out — they just have to make sure their virus-infected files are larger than that).

But most other services do not scan for viruses at all, so it’s your responsibility to make sure that you’re protected against any potential threats contained in the file they’re downloading.

Software download viruses

Fake antivirus infections are one of the most common types of virus-loaded software downloads. Scammers and cybercriminals use aggressive pop-ups and ads to scare users into believing that a non-existent virus has been detected in their PC, and compels them to download their “antivirus” software in order to clear the threat.

Instead of ridding the computer of viruses, this fake antivirus proceeds to infect the PC with malware, often with devastating consequences for the victim’s files, hard drive, and personal information.

Unpatched vulnerable software

Last but not least, one of the most common (yet most often overlooked) means for viruses to spread is unpatched software.

Unpatched software refers to software and apps which have not been updated with the latest security updates from the developer, in order to plug up security holes in the software itself.

Unpatched software is a major cybersecurity headache for businesses and organizations, but with criminals exploiting vulnerabilities in outdated versions of such popular programs as Adobe Reader, Java, Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office, us civilians are very much at risk of infection too.