At any moment, about 20 million computers are infected with viruses that could give hackers full control.
Viruses are designed to cause deliberate damage to your computer. They attach themselves to files on your computer so that they can spread from one computer to another, leaving infections as they travel. Some cause only mildly annoying problems while others can cause massive damage to your files. Spyware has a different purpose. At some point, viruses evolved from causing damage to running "covert operations". The benefit to hackers became obvious: Why destroy information when you can use that information instead?
Some types of spyware try to access files on your computer, some try to use your computer as a "breeding ground" for storing other stolen files, and others attempts to steal passwords, credit card information, or collect personal information about you. While the difference between Spyware and Viruses has become more blurred over the past several years, different programs provide different levels of protection, and none are consistent.
How to Spot a Fake
Sometimes, viruses want to simply get your credit card information. They accomplish this by pretending to be a helpful program that has detected multiple viruses or other problems with your computer. In the example above, you can see indicators that suggest that the message you are receiving is actually a virus:
- The title is official-sounding.
- There are multiple warnings that appear dangerous.
- You are encouraged to purchase the product in order to fix the warnings.
According to Consumer Reports, Internet threats continue to grow at an alarmingly high rate each year. Each year, 1 in 5 people will be infected with a dangerous computer virus. As for spyware, the statistics for infection are 1 in 11. The total annual damage is estimated at $2.7 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively.
Be Cautious... But Not Too Much
While it's important to be proactive in protecting yourself against viruses, you need to make sure a virus doesn't use your cautious nature against you. Many viruses pretend to be helpful programs, games, screen savers or even anti-virus programs themselves. In your attempts to protect yourself, you can inadvertently make things worse if you're not thinking about the potential implications of being tricked, something viruses tend to do very, very well.
Which Anti-Virus Program Should I Use?
Not all anti-virus software is equal. No single product can detect all of the possible viruses, and none are consistent. No longer is just having an up-to-date anti-virus program good enough; in today's world, a layered approach with the right combination of protection is necessary. And you can't depend on clever marketing to help you make up your mind, as not all anti-virus programs play well with each other. Plus, you run the risk of your computer slowing down even more. We're big believers that each person's situation requires a unique approach depending on what's happened to your computer in the past. Protection may be a variable, but the types of infections each person comes across tends to remain the same.
Our handout on how to take proactive steps to try to stay "virus-safe" might be of some use. Of course, this only helps for prevention when you haven't yet had a virus, so it's worth reviewing.
How Likely is it that I will get a Virus?
A significant number of new clients have a virus infection that is interfering with their ability to use their computer. Many people find this a frustrating situation as they thought they were well protected by the anti-virus software they already purchased and/or installed for free. Since everyone uses the Internet differently, there is no "all-in-one" solution that fits for everyone. You don't just need protection; you need protection tailored to your specific use and needs. Unfortunately, no single piece of software purchased off the shelf will solve this dilemma for you.
I'm Infected - What Should I Do?
First and foremost, update and run a full anti-virus scan using whichever anti-virus program is currently installed on your computer. If all goes well, it should detect the virus and give you an option to remove it. If not, however, you might need some additional help.
Make certain that whomever works on your computer has been in business for some time, has experience with this sort of thing and can provide several references. Not only should your computer be cleaned of all viruses when all is said and done; it should be locked down and protected against future re-infections. Oregon Tech Support is the only company in Lane County that can provide you a warranty against future virus infections, something we consider to be an often-overlooked step in our industry.