What are viruses and how to defend against them

While viruses have become synonymous with any type of computer infection, they represent a well-defined category of malware

When talking about a computer virus, we are referring to a program, macro or script designed and created to cause damage within the infected device. The first viruses date back to the dawn of modern computing (early 1980s) and over the decades have evolved to better adapt to an ever-changing environment.

The nature and extent of damage varies depending on the type of virus infecting the computer or smartphone. In the vast majority of cases, however, viruses will delete files, overwrite other information (so as to make it unreadable), display messages and create the conditions for their "species survival". The choice of the name, in fact, is not random: unlike other types of malware, viruses self-replicate and spread to other devices.

How computer viruses spread

The way viruses spread has changed over the years, but there are some similarities. The main vector will be another already infected file that, in some way, must be "shared" with another computer device. If in the very first years the exchange took place through floppy disks, today virus infections travel through the Internet (e-mail, in particular), USB sticks or external hard disks. In business environments, however, the virus can spread "autonomously" from node to node after infecting one of the machines in the computer network.

How to protect yourself from computer viruses

The most effective way to protect yourself is to pay attention to the links or attachments you open. As we have seen, the virus needs the action of the user to affect a computer. It is a good rule, therefore, to be on your guard when you receive emails from suspicious contacts. Just as it is fundamental to have a good antivirus, which must always be updated. Finally, don't forget to install the latest security updates for your operating system.