Dan received the CompTIA IT Operations Specialist (cert.) in 2010 and worked in the computer repair/networking industry for several years.
Confusion surrounds how computer virus infection occurs. It's due in part to poorly-written articles. Some folks believe computer malfunctions are always caused by viruses. E.g., "My computer has another virus."
There are factual differences between the causes of computer malfunctions. Some breakdowns occur from hardware or software corruption. Other breakdowns are directly related to viruses. Although it causes malfunctions, a computer virus is actually a software program written for exploitation purposes — it is not a malfunction itself.
Though not an exhaustive list, the following are four reasons that computers become infected with viruses:
1. Fraudulent Websites
These are websites designed and set up by cybercriminals. The sites tend to be visually appealing and offer free programs and apps. This is a classic trojan horse set-up in that the appealing nature of the provisions leads to compromised computers.
When people download and install software from the sites viruses are installed unnoticed. What the virus does will depend on its designed functions.
2. Compromised Websites
When a cybercriminal infiltrates a legitimate website, its services and provisions can be hijacked. As a result, computers can be damaged when people interact with the site.
Sometimes, infections are the result of drive-by interactions where people are not required to use or click any part of a website. A website's hijacked features can automatically exploit vulnerabilities on computers connected to the site.
As noted previously, infections can result when programs or apps from fraudulent websites are downloaded and installed. Infections can also happen when legitimate website provisions are hijacked — folks believe they are receiving honest services and inadvertently install viruses hidden inside free software.
3. Phishing Attacks
When cybercriminals who pretend to be legitimate entities contact people with offers or request private information it is known as phishing. Initial contact is through text messaging, private messaging, email or phone calls. When trust is established, any number of illegal activities can occur — virus infection is common.
Solicitees can directly download viruses via links delivered by cybercriminals. The links can also direct to malicious or compromised websites which can ultimately lead to virus infection.
4. Corrupt Employees
Some employees are tech-savvy and a fraction of them could develop malicious intentions. If sufficiently motivated — such as by an unfair termination — workers who were initially honest may carry out cyberattacks against the terminating company. Moreover, some tech-savvy employees can be motivated by none other than thrill-seeking.
An employee of this sort could pursue different types of computer-related crimes. If the worker has installation privileges allocated within a computer operating system (e.g., Microsoft Windows), for example, they can install malicious software that allows monitoring and remote controlling. Ransomware infection is a common occurrence and can be easily achieved by this method.
What about IoT Devices?
Although they're not used for typical internet-based activities, the IoT or internet-of-things encompasses electronic gadgets and appliances built for enhancing the quality of life. Home security, automobiles and even thermostats, for example, now possess internet capabilities for enhancing their functions.
In any case, IoT devices are generally as prone to virus infection as regular computers. Since IoT devices aren't used for accessing internet content in the traditional fashion, it begs the question, "How then are IoT devices infected?" Although the method of infection is a little different, here are some tips for keeping IoT gadgets safe:
- Change default passwords. Cybercriminals can figure out default passwords since manufacturers generally post them online. By changing passwords, the risk of access by unauthorized personnel is reduced.
- Update the device's software. Just as Microsoft provides updates for the operating system Windows, manufacturers provide updates to IoT products. By keeping software updated, security holes are patched.
- Check reviews before purchasing. There's no shortage of comments and product reviews on the internet. This type of information will reveal any known security vulnerabilities and help buyers make smart decisions.
Becoming educated on cybercriminal conduct is generally necessary. There are several ways to protect against computer viruses, however.
Using common sense is perhaps the greatest factor in avoiding virus infection. If foul play is suspected to be present in website services, devilry is probable. As a best practice (not necessarily a rule), do not open unsolicited messages or use unfamiliar websites. Use antivirus software as a back-of-line defense — don't let it substitute sound judgment.
Limit computer usage privileges. Employees should be allowed to use only the functions and tools necessary to complete assignments. An employee in charge of accounting and payroll, for example, should not be allowed to access data related to customers. Additionally, employees should not have privileges to install computer software — a task better left to the business owner or IT staff.
This is a security concept called least privilege and can be applied to a wide variety of situations in a business. The security protocol prevents a single employee from having so much access that it creates a single point of failure in security.
Get a Plan
Virus infection can occur in a variety of ways. While the four mechanisms above are the most common, it helps to keep an open mind. Other infection methods can be used in addition to those stated. General education is helpful although an individualized plan can be necessary.
Seek to authenticate the expertise or authority of IT-related content. You can check comments, peer reviews and cross-reference with books written by verified experts. Lastly, remember that although computer viruses cause glitches, they are not glitches themselves.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Dan Martino