Say the word “computer virus” in front of someone using their computer or device, and you’re likely to get an edgy look or two. The word does sound scary, in part because it has become a general term for any malicious software. But PC viruses have taken a backseat to other more sinister digital threats nowadays.
What is a computer virus?
A computer virus is a type of malware that can harm your data, like your files and folders. It may also slow down or crash your computer after its done. Most computer viruses require a host program and user action to propagate and attach bits of their own malicious code to their hosts.
What is malware, and how is it different from a virus?
Malware is any piece of malicious software that seeks to harm or exploit a computer or network. Viruses are just one of many kinds of malware. Here is a brief list of some common malware:
- Computer virus
- Computer worm
- Trojan horse malware
- Browser hijackers
Why are viruses less of a threat nowadays?
There was a time when computer users were terrified of viruses. A dangerous PC virus infection could destroy almost everything on a computer and leave it nearly inoperable. Removing the virus took considerable effort. But today, viruses are lower on the threat scale for these reasons:
1. Cybersecurity has improved
A few decades ago, you needed immediate access to third-party antivirus software to clear an infection. In addition, you needed the latest updates for your antivirus program to catch the threat’s signature. Today, both Windows and macOS computers have competent security software that can stop viruses.
However, you should still download top anti-malware software that uses signature-based technology to block known viruses and AI-powered behavioral analysis to thwart emerging malware proactively, because your default security tools are unlikely to stop more advanced threats.
2. Computer Users Are Smarter
As mentioned above, viruses need human interaction to activate. For example, you’ll need to double-click a corrupt executable file to activate a virus. Otherwise, the virus is harmless. Computer users are less likely to activate a virus nowadays after many years of experience.
3. Cybercriminals are developing other threats
While a virus can be agonizing for a victim, it doesn’t help a hacker make money. Cybercriminals have little control over a virus after it’s in the wild. To earn an income, hackers focus on phishing, ransomware, spyware, adware, banker Trojans, password-stealers, ad-fraud bots, botnets, cryptojackers, and other types of malware and online scams.
Should I not worry about computer viruses at all?
Although computer viruses aren’t as prolific as before, you should still watch out for them. Trolls, hackers, and other people interested in mischief will try to infect your system with a virus. Here are some helpful tips to defend your system from viruses.
- Download security updates for your critical software regularly
- Keep your operating system’s security software up to date
- Download anti-malware software that seeks and destroys viruses
- Be wary of threat vectors such as email attachments, shady websites, corrupt downloads, and malicious links
Computer viruses are certainly not making the news like ransomware attacks. But that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Keep them away from your computer, or you could lose your precious data and peace of mind.