What is a Computer Virus?

A computer virus, a type of malware, is a program that is intended to spread from one system to another via a contaminated program, file, or document. A computer virus is the digital equivalent of the flu, spreading from one host to another, often undetected and often replicating or altering itself.

While some computer viruses are immediately active, others remain dormant for some time, working slowly to cause destruction over time. A computer virus may be used as a way to frustrate the computer owner, simply for fun by the creator. However, others are created for malicious reasons such as stealing personal information or for financial gain.

Individuals who write viruses are always coming up with new ways to fool their prospects into downloading the virus. And as our lives become more connected via technology, it may be even easier to trick us into downloading it. Victims often fall prey to an email attachment, a social media post that requires a download or sign-in for access, or a music file that contains a virus.

Computer viruses work in phases during their lifecycle. Once a virus accesses its target’s computer, it may sit dormant while waiting to be triggered by the user. Triggering of the virus happens when the computer owner runs the program or file the virus is located within. Not all viruses have a dormant phase; some run immediately. As soon as the virus starts propagating or multiplying or replicating itself, it has moved to a new phase. The virus will copy itself and transfer to other programs or machines on the network. Each infected program will have a clone of the original virus which will then also go into a propagation phase.

The triggering phase of the virus’s life cycle is when the virus completes its intended function. This is often when the virus destroys your computer, steals your personal information, or begins spamming your contacts.

Infected machines often require software to remove the virus from the infected programs. Depending on the virus type, new hardware may also be needed to repair the damage, as some viruses will attack system critical files on the computer.

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