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What Is A Virus?
The Differences Between Computer Viruses, Worms & Trojans.

What is a Virus?
A computer virus is a manmade program or piece of code that causes an unexpected, usually negative, event. It is a small program written to alter the way a computer operates, without the permission or knowledge of the user.

Some viruses are programmed to damage the computer by damaging programs, deleting files, or reformatting the hard disk. Others are not designed to do any damage, but simply to replicate themselves and make their presence known by presenting text, video, and audio messages. Even these benign viruses can create problems for the computer user. They typically take up computer memory used by legitimate programs. As a result, they often cause erratic behavior and can result in system crashes. In addition, many viruses are bug-ridden, and these bugs may lead to system crashes and data loss.

Five types of viruses

  1.         File infector viruses - File infector viruses infect program files. These viruses normally infect executable code, such as .com and .exe files. The can infect other files when an infected program is run from floppy, hard drive, or from the network. Many of these viruses are memory resident. After memory becomes infected, any noninfected executable that runs becomes infected.
  2.         Boot sector viruses - Boot sector viruses infect the system area of a disk; that is, the boot record on floppy disks and hard disks. All floppy disks and hard disks (including disks containing only data) contain a small program in the boot record that is run when the computer starts up. Boot sector viruses attach themselves to this part of the disk and activate when the user attempts to start up from the infected disk. These viruses are always memory resident in nature. Most were written for DOS, but, all PCs, regardless of the operating system, are potential targets of this type of virus. All that is required to become infected is to attempt to start up your computer with an infected floppy disk Thereafter, while the virus remains in memory, all floppy disks that are not write protected will become infected when the floppy disk is accessed.
  3.         Master boot record viruses - Master boot record viruses are memory-resident viruses that infect disks in the same manner as boot sector viruses. The difference between these two virus types is where the viral code is located. Master boot record infectors normally save a legitimate copy of the master boot record in an different location. Windows NT computers that become infected by either boot sector viruses or master boot sector viruses will not boot. This is due to the difference in how the operating system accesses its boot information, as compared to Windows 98/Me. If your Windows NT systems is formatted with FAT partitions you can usually remove the virus by booting to DOS and using antivirus software. If the boot partition is NTFS, the system must be recovered by using the three Windows NT Setup disks.
  4.         Multipartite viruses - Multipartite (also known as polypartite) viruses infect both boot records and program files. These are particularly difficult to repair. If the boot area is cleaned, but the files are not, the boot area will be reinfected. The same holds true for cleaning infected files. If the virus is not removed from the boot area, any files that you have cleaned will be reinfected.
  5.         Macro viruses - These types of viruses infect data files. They are the most common and have cost corporations the most money and time trying to repair. With the advent of Visual Basic in Microsoft's Office 97, a macro virus can be written that not only infects data files, but also can infect other files as well. Macro viruses infect Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access files. Newer strains are now turning up in other programs as well. All of these viruses use another program's internal programming language, which was created to allow users to automate certain tasks within that program. Because of the ease with which these viruses can be created, there are now thousands of them in circulation.

What Is A Worm?
Worms are programs that replicate themselves from system to system without the use of a host file. This is in contrast to viruses, which requires the spreading of an infected host file. Although worms generally exist inside of other files, often Word or Excel documents, there is a difference between how worms and viruses use the host file. Usually the worm will release a document that already has the "worm" macro inside the document.
Computer Worms are viruses that reside in the active memory of a computer and duplicate themselves. They may send copies of themselves to other computers, such as through email or Internet Relay Chat (IRC).

What Is A Trojan?
A Trojan horse program is a malicious program that pretends to be a benign application; a Trojan horse program purposefully does something the user does not expect. Trojans are not viruses since they do not replicate, but Trojan horse programs can be just as destructive.
Trojan horses are impostor files that claim to be something desirable but, in fact, are malicious. A very important distinction between Trojan horse programs and true viruses is that they do not replicate themselves. Trojan horses contain malicious code that when triggered cause loss, or even theft, of data. For a Trojan horse to spread, you must invite these programs onto your computers; for example, by opening an email attachment or downloading and running a file from the Internet.

What Are Not Viruses? - Things To Be Aware Of
  •         No viruses can physically damage computer hardware, such as chips, boards, and monitors.
  •         The computer beeps at start-up with no screen display - this is usually caused by a hardware problem during the boot process. Consult your computer documentation for the meaning of the beep codes.
  •         Microsoft Word warns you that a document contains a macro - this does not mean that the macro is a virus.
  •         You cannot open a particular document - this is not necessarily an indication of a virus. Try opening another document or a backup of the document in question. If other documents open correctly, the document may be damaged.
  •         You have two antivirus programs installed and one of them reports a virus - this might be a virus, but it can also be caused by one antivirus program detect the other program's signatures in memory.

April 2007