The Virus Lab – What Is A Virus?

Here at FixMeStick, we often receive comments and emails from readers who suspect their computer has been infected by a virus. So what exactly is a computer virus? And how you can tell if your computer is experiencing a general operating system issue or a virus-related one?

In short, a computer virus is a software program that needs a host to replicate and spread. Much like a human virus, it is designed to easily infect and spread across as many hosts as possible.

A computer virus is a software program that needs a host to replicate and spread.

Most computer viruses are designed to control computers, steal information, or even corrupt the system to cause permanent damage to hardware.

So where does the name come from? Many people use “virus” and “malware” interchangeably. But they are not the same because “malware” is the umbrella term. To illustrate, a computer “virus” is classified as “malware” while a computer “worm”, which is not a virus, is also classified as “malware”.

Traits of a Virus Malware

  • Replicating itself – this allows it to infect a greater part of your computer, in addition to other computers
  • Taking up power and space – this slows down computer startup and programs.
  • Attaching to executable files – these regular files that help your computer function will become corrupted and eventually cease running without the viruses help.
  • Hiding dormant in a file until triggered to execute its malicious code – they will often remain present without symptoms.
  • Using polymorphic code – this means the virus can change each time it infects a new host, causing it to become more difficult to catch with anti-virus software.
  • Requiring user action to spread – computer viruses can’t spread to other hosts on their own, it requires user action such as opening up an infected file or email.

Viruses use polymorphic code to make them more difficult to catch with anti-virus software.

How to Prevent Computer Virus Infections

  • Do run a routine FixMeStick scan.
  • Do be aware that your mobile device can also become infected through unknown App downloads, text messages, and shared files.
  • Do have an up-to-date antivirus on your computer
  • Don’t open email attachments from unknown senders or strange emails.
  • Don’t click on unknown social media links.
  • Don’t click on pop-ups.
  • Don’t visit suspicious websites.

Want to learn more about the different types of computer viruses? Check out other blogs in our Virus Lab series below!

What is Malware and Why Does it Exist?
What is Ransomware?
What is a Worm?
What is Adware?