The file scrambler, the data hoarder and the ransom demander – ransomware isn’t fun for anyone …

You’ve read our comprehensive guide to cybersecurity threats and you’ve hopefully read our inside guides to Ransomware and Malware but now it is time to delve deep into the underground chasms of the virus.

As we mentioned in our cybersecurity guide, the virus is so named because of its similarity to the flu virus. They both behave equally as badly – replicating themselves as they move through a system, infecting it with multiple copies and then executing a code that causes the system to behave in a certain way. The level of destruction caused by a virus depends on who built it and why….


The definition

A computer virus is, as mentioned earlier, designed to spread from host to host as rapidly and effectively as possible. It can only do so within its own code and can’t follow the code unless it has been activated. Most viruses have been designed to change the way a computer operates and to then replicate themselves by moving into another computer. They usually do this by attaching themselves to another programme, usually one that is well known so the victim doesn’t realise they’re about to infect their device until it’s too late. They hang around on the system until they are activated by an event or specific conditions and then they get going, diving deep into your system and causing plenty of damage.

You can have a virus sitting on your system right now and you just wouldn’t know because the right conditions that will launch its code haven’t been met yet. This is why having an anti-virus is so important. It is also why the software carries that name – antivirus – even when it now does so much more than just protect against viruses.

Fun fact: The most (in)famous computer virus of all time is ILOVEYOU, even though, given its behaviour, it really doesn’t. Love you, that is. This darkly unpleasant virus carries the label of the most destructive virus of all time even though it has aged. Today, the virus would barely cause a ripple, but back then, in 2000, it was a weapon of mass computer destruction and won the Guinness World Record for the most virulent virus of all time.


The threat

So, how do you know if your system has been infected by a virus? Like the flu virus, the computer virus causes symptoms. Some of the most common are:

  • Emails sent from your account across to all of your contact You’ve probably seen several dodgy emails from friends and family and colleagues who have had a virus enter their system. Don’t click on the links and let them know they’ve got a problem.
  • A brand-new homepage. If you open the internet and suddenly get redirected to a new homepage it is very likely that you’ve got a virus telling your computer what to do. Your best bet is to reset it and then scour your computer for viruses.
  • Frequent crashes. Your hardware is vulnerable to virus attack so if your machine is constantly crashing you should check for a virus as part of the process.
  • Pop-up windows. This has happened to many people, thousands of windows popping up on their screen and suddenly the computer crashing or freezing. This is a virus taking charge and you must absolutely not click on any of the pop-ups, ever.
  • Unusual computer activity and slowdowns – if your machine is running very slowly or if you are finding that your passwords are being changed then you should immediately get an antivirus on the job.

Want to know what some of the most common viruses are? There are plenty to choose from. This list should give you a very good idea as to what you can expect:

  • Boot sector virus – this goes straight into the master boot record and is really hard to remove.
  • #File Infectors – these infect any programme which require that you execute a performance and often come with .com or .exe files.
  • Overwrite virus – You lose all your file contents with this mean machine. It goes in and deletes every, single file it infects and the only way to remove it is to remove the infected files.
  • Macro virus – it affects the macro commands in applications and thoroughly enjoys making life as unpleasant as possible.
  • Polymorphic virus – this uses a clever method of hiding from antivirus software by encoding or encrypting when they infect a system and they are very good at replicating themselves.
  • You can also get the encrypted virus, directory virus, web scripting virus, browser hijacker, direct action virus, multipartite virus, resident virus, and the companion virus.

Fun fact: A virus named after a tennis player got a techie a job. Jan de Wit wrote the Anna Kournikova virus as a joke back when her tennis star shone brightly, and it did very well for itself. The damage it wrought was minor but de Wit turned himself over to the police anyway.


The protection

Here are five steps that you should follow to protect your system and life from ransomware:

  1. Don’t click on it. You should never, ever click on a strange link in an email or download a file and use it without ensuring that it comes from a trusted source. If that email looks iffy, it is. If that pop-up advert looks strange, it is.
  2. Select an excellent antivirus and keep your shields running. Everyone knows it can be annoying when your antivirus shields slow down performance or internet access, but they are far less annoying than ransomware. Pick an antivirus solution that has an excellent reputation and that you feel comfortable customising to suit your working needs. Norton offers both premium and basic antivirus solutions that include some neat features to ensure you’re protected against viruses, even the new ones. Just make sure that auto-update is On and that you scan your emails and computer regularly.
  3. Backup your data and files so you can always just walk away from an infected machine. Some viruses just destroy everything, others lurk and share information, many are impossible to remove without a complete reboot and reset of your machine. If your data is safe, you can do this without fear of losing valuable information and data.
  4. Keep your antivirus updated. Ensure that you have an excellent antivirus programme that can alert you to suspicious emails, websites and attachments, among other things. This should also include a ransomware blocker and the ability to manage it closely so you can ensure updates are always done on time.