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- BitDefender AntiVirus
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What is a Computer Virus?
A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself and infect a computer without the permission or knowledge of the owner. The term “virus” is also commonly but erroneously used to refer to other types of malware, adware, and spyware programs that do not have the reproductive ability. A true virus can only spread from one computer to another (in some form of executable code) when its host is taken to the target computer; for instance because a user sent it over a network or the Internet, or carried it on a removable medium such as a floppy disk, CD, DVD, or USB drive. Viruses can increase their chances of spreading to other computers by infecting files on a network file system or a file system that is accessed by another computer.
The term “computer virus” is sometimes used as a catch-all phrase to include all types of malware. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, most rootkits, spyware, dishonest adware, crimeware, and other malicious and unwanted software), including true viruses. Viruses are sometimes confused with computer worms and Trojan horses, which are technically different. A worm can exploit security vulnerabilities to spread itself to other computers without needing to be transferred as part of a host, and a Trojan horse is a program that appears harmless but has a hidden agenda. Worms and Trojans, like viruses, may cause harm to either a computer system’s hosted data, functional performance, or networking throughput, when they are executed. Some viruses and other malware have symptoms noticeable to the computer user, but many are surreptitious.
Most personal computers are now connected to the Internet and to local area networks, facilitating the spread of malicious code. Today’s viruses may also take advantage of network services such as the World Wide Web, e-mail, Instant Messaging, and file sharing systems to spread.
One possibility on Windows Me, Windows XP and Windows Vista is a tool known as System Restore, which restores the registry and critical system files to a previous checkpoint. Often a virus will cause a system to hang, and a subsequent hard reboot will render a system restore point from the same day corrupt. Restore points from previous days should work provided the virus is not designed to corrupt the restore files or also exists in previous restore points. Some viruses, however, disable system restore and other important tools such as Task Manager and Command Prompt. An example of a virus that does this is CiaDoor.
Administrators have the option to disable such tools from limited users for various reasons (for example, to reduce potential damage from and the spread of viruses). The virus modifies the registry to do the same, except, when the Administrator is controlling the computer, it blocks all users from accessing the tools. When an infected tool activates it gives the message “Task Manager has been disabled by your administrator.”, even if the user trying to open the program is the administrator.
Users running a Microsoft operating system can access Microsoft’s website to run a free scan, provided they have their 20-digit registration number.
Anti-virus software and other preventive measures
Many users install anti-virus software that can detect and eliminate known viruses after the computer downloads or runs the executable. There are two common methods that an anti-virus software application uses to detect viruses. The first, and by far the most common method of virus detection is using a list of virus signature definitions. This works by examining the content of the computer’s memory (its RAM, and boot sectors) and the files stored on fixed or removable drives (hard drives, floppy drives), and comparing those files against a database of known virus “signatures”. The disadvantage of this detection method is that users are only protected from viruses that pre-date their last virus definition update. The second method is to use a heuristic algorithm to find viruses based on common behaviors. This method has the ability to detect viruses that anti-virus security firms have yet to create a signature for.
Some anti-virus programs are able to scan opened files in addition to sent and received e-mails ‘on the fly’ in a similar manner. This practice is known as “on-access scanning.” Anti-virus software does not change the underlying capability of host software to transmit viruses. Users must update their software regularly to patch security holes. Anti-virus software also needs to be regularly updated in order to prevent the latest threats.
One may also minimise the damage done by viruses by making regular backups of data (and the Operating Systems) on different media, that are either kept unconnected to the system (most of the time), read-only or not accessible for other reasons, such as using different file systems. This way, if data is lost through a virus, one can start again using the backup (which should preferably be recent).
If a backup session on optical media like CD and DVD is closed, it becomes read-only and can no longer be affected by a virus (so long as a virus or infected file was not copied onto the CD/DVD). Likewise, an operating system on a bootable CD can be used to start the computer if the installed operating systems become unusable. Backups on removable media must be carefully inspected before restoration. The Gammima virus, for example, propagates via removable flash drives.
Another method is to use different operating systems on different file systems. A virus is not likely to affect both. Data backups can also be put on different file systems. For example, Linux requires specific software to write to NTFS partitions, so if one does not install such software and uses a separate installation of MS Windows to make the backups on an NTFS partition, the backup should remain safe from any Linux viruses (unless they are written to specifically provide this capability). Likewise, MS Windows can not read file systems like ext3, so if one normally uses MS Windows, the backups can be made on an ext3 partition using a Linux installation.[Source]