What is a computer virus

Computer viruses are not much different than a biological virus acting very much the same kinds that make you sick. Biological viruses are persistently nasty, keeping you from functioning normally, and often requires something powerful to get rid of it.

A computer virus is very similar:  Designed to relentlessly replicate, computer viruses infect your programs and files, altering the way your computer operates or stopping it from working altogether. As an example, in 2009, it is estimated that the "Conficker" virus infected more than 10 million computers. Tens of thousands of computer viruses now travel and infect computers over the Internet, and everyday new computer viruses are discovered that need addressing.

Where do computer viruses come from

No matter who you are, or how much knowledge you have on this subject, anyone is susceptible to contract computer viruses on their laptops, desktops, irrespective of their platforms. Normal internet activities by the average user are average pathways to infection:

  • Sharing music, files or photos with other users

  • Visiting an infected Web site

  • Opening spam email or an email attachment

  • Downloading free games, toolbars, media players and other system utilities

  • Installing mainstream software applications without fully reading license agreements

What a computer virus does

Some computer viruses are programmed to harm your computer by damaging programs, deleting files, or reformatting the hard drive. Others simply replicate themselves or flood a network with traffic, making it impossible to perform any internet activity. Even less harmful computer viruses can significantly disrupt your system’s performance, sapping computer memory and causing frequent computer crashes.

What are the symptoms?

  • Slow computer performance

  • Erratic computer behavior

  • Unexplained data loss

  • Frequent computer crashes

What is Ransomware

Ransom malware, or randsomware, is a type of malware that prevents users from accessing their system or personal files and demands ransom payment in order to regain access. The earliest variants of ransomware were developed in the late 1980's, and payment was to be sent via snail mail. Today, ransomware authors order that payment be sent via cryptocurrency or credit card.

Where ransomware comes from

There are several different ways that ransomware can infect your computer. One of the most common methods today is through malicious spam, or maplspam, which is unsolicited email that is used to deliver malware. The email might include booby-trapped attachments, such as PDFs or Word documents. It might also contain links to malicious websites.

Malspam uses social engineering in order to trick people into opening attachments or clicking on links by appearing as legitimate—whether that’s by seeming to be from a trusted institution or a friend. Cybercriminals use social engineering in other types of ransomware attacks, such as posing as the FBI in order to scare users into paying them a sum of money to unlock their files.

Another popular infection method, which reached its peak in 2016, is malvertising. Malvertising, or malicious advertising, is the use of online advertising to distribute malware with little to no user interaction required. While browsing the web, even legitimate sites, users can be directed to criminal servers without ever clicking on an ad. These servers catalog details about victim computers and their locations, and then select the malware best suited to deliver. Often, that malware is ransomware.

Types of ransomware

There are three main types of ransomware, ranging in severity from mildly off-putting to Cuban Missile Crisis dangerous. They are as follows:

Scareware

Scareware, as it turns out, is not that scary. It includes rogue security software and tech support scams. You might receive a pop-up message claiming that malware was discovered and the only way to get rid of it is to pay up. If you do nothing, you’ll likely continue to be bombarded with pop-ups, but your files are essentially safe.

A legitimate cybersecurity software program would not solicit customers in this way. If you don’t already have this company’s software on your computer, then they would not be monitoring you for ransomware infection. If you do have security software, you wouldn’t need to pay to have the infection removed—you’ve already paid for the software to do that very job.

Screen Lockers

Upgrade to terror alert orange for these guys. When lock-screen ransomware gets on your computer, it means you’re frozen out of your PC entirely. Upon starting up your computer, a full-size window will appear, often accompanied by an official-looking FBI or US Department of Justice seal saying illegal activity has been detected on your computer and you must pay a fine. However, the FBI would not freeze you out of your computer or demand payment for illegal activity. If they suspected you of piracy, child pornography, or other cybercrimes, they would go through the appropriate legal channels.

Encrypting Ransomware

This is the truly nasty stuff. These are the guys who snatch up your files and encrypt them, demanding payment in order to decrypt and redeliver. The reason why this type of ransomware is so dangerous is because once cybercriminals get ahold of your files, no security software or system restore can return them to you. Unless you pay the ransom—for the most part, they’re gone. And even if you do pay up, there’s no guarantee the cybercriminals will give you those files back.

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