Increased Levels of Computer Virus Activity

From about 1990 there has never really been a time of low computer virus activity. However since late 2010, and especially in the last two months (March and April) of this year, computer virus activity has increased. According to the latest Symantec MessageLabs Report on worldwide virus activity (as seen by Symantec’s virus scanning tools) there has been a 10 percent increase in virus activity in the first quarter of 2011.

If you don’t have anti-virus scanning installed then get some installed. There is no excuse. Some of the best real-time anti-virus scanners are free to home users. If you don’t know how to install it then engage your friendly family IT support person—every family has one.

As has often been said by many computer virus experts, much like biological viruses, there is no perfect anti-virus solution. However the Top 10 are considered to be about 98 percent effective. So if you got attacked by 100 computer viruses in a year then two of them are likely to get through the defences and infect your computer. But this has to be much better than all 100 of them infecting your computer.

While most computer viruses are non-destructive what they can or will be doing is:

  • Slowing down your computer.
  • Snooping on your data, especially username and passwords, and credit card details, if the can find any.
  • Stopping you from connecting to the Internet, or, what can be even worse, allowing you to connect but timing your connection out using a random timer. So you get connected then after 3 minutes get disconnected. After you re-boot you can connect again, but then it disconnects after 10 minutes. And so on. Very frustrating until you work out it is a virus.
  • Adding your computer to a bot-net so that someone else can use processing power from your computer to do stuff (which slows down your computer).
  • Opening up the back-door so that at any time someone can come into your computer over the Internet and do stuff without you knowing—whatever they might want to do (such as turn the camera on and have a look around; if you have a camera installed [most modern notebook computers do]).
  • Denying you access to some programs installed on your computer; such as the virus that stops Windows Explorer from launching. Clicking Windows Explorer just does nothing.

While any of the above is a big concern for business computers, and businesses tend to take strong measures against virus infection, for most home users most of the above is little more than a marginal inconvenience. Until their computer just about grinds to a halt due to an overload of infections, or won’t boot up anymore, or will no longer connect to the Internet, or suspicious credit card transactions start to appear on their credit card.

But around 7 percent of viruses are destructive in some way, and three percent are highly destructive. Most destructive virus either destroy data stored on the computer (documents, pictures, spreadsheets, music, videos, etc,.) or installed programs (Adobe Photoshop was the target of a virus back in 2003) and more recently Microsoft Office 2007 was targeted. Some destroy hardware; or try to destroy it by doing things like turning off the heat management for the CPU or disabling cooling fans (the ability to do this depends on specific computer components). Although doing this will rarely actually destroy the CPU because as soon as it overheats it malfunctions and the computer dies. However fixing this can be a challenge if you don’t know what is going on as it often requires the motherboard BIOS to be flashed (and if the virus has not been removed then once the computer starts up it is likely that it will corrupt the heat management code again).

So … the point of this post?

Make sure you have anti-virus software installed and keep it updated with the latest sniffers for the new viruses.

What I do is have a real-time anti-virus tool installed (I have been using Microsoft’s free Security Essentials now for about two years) and I have a separate scan tool (I am using SUPERAnti-Spyware) that I use to do a separate manual full disk scan with from time to time—probably about every two weeks or so. So far this approach has proven very effective but I would class myself as a savvy computer and Internet user. I don’t even consider opening emails that I don’t know about, and certainly never open any attachments I am not expecting. And the bulk of my Web surfing is news sites and news aggregators, camera and photography sites, and technology sites. Links I might go to from an aggregator site (such as Digg, Reddit, SlashDot, DailyRotation, or StumbleUpon) have already been visited by tens of thousands of people by the time I go to them, so if there was a virus there someone would have posted an alert.

In the above narrative the term computer virus is used as a catch-all term to cover viruses, trojans, spyware, sneakers, sniffers, bots, foolbars, adware, malware, etc, etc., and all the other malicious intent code that you didn’t invite into your computer or intend to install.