Brief overview of computer viruses and the motivation behind it.

Viruses - why? What’s the point?

From playful, irritating Virus-boy to scheming, evil Virus-man

How and why did it all begin?

Back in the day, Virus-boy was pretty harmless - a lonely, but annoying, pre-adolescent, who would pass his days in a darkened room, making his own fun, creating viruses to wreak havoc on his friends' Commodore 64 computers.

It won't surprise you to learn that those 'friends' didn't stick around for long. Undeterred, annoying Virus-boy soon grew into evil Virus-man, turning his sad little hobby into a multi-million-pound criminal industry - an industry with a single purpose - to empty your wallet.

Of course, conspiracy theories are rife - the most common one being that viruses are created by antivirus companies to get more people to buy their software. There's not a scintilla of evidence for this theory. The risk of discovery and the penal consequences would surely be too great.

Here's a checklist of virus types and what they're designed to do -

  • Written just for fun - Lot of people like to see how famous their virus will be. Most of them are primitive but some are lethal.
  • A virus made to order - Here's an example. An unscrupulous manufacturer of PC video cards pays a hacker to design a virus that attacks the video cards made by a competitor. These video cards inexplicably start underperforming. Sometimes they pack up altogether, damaging the host PC beyond repair. The result? The competitor's reputation is damaged, leaving the door open for the original manufacturer to move in.
  • Spyware - This type of attack is a bit like phishing emails. The goal is to discover and abuse your login details (passwords, etc.),with the aim of stealing your money. But spyware is much more dangerous than phishing emails - it's much harder to spot. Once the spyware is installed, you won't know your data is being leaked.
  • Keyloggers, trojan virus - The main goal is the same as in case of spyware - to steal money. It works by tracking the actual keys you strike on your keyboard.
  • To threaten institutions - Rogue governments will carry out a cyber- or terror-attack, flexing their muscles to demonstrate power and influence. Most users needn't worry. These threats are aimed at banks, governments and international companies.
  • Ransomware - Have you heard of the infamous WannaCry or Petya from last year. These were devastating. You can read the detail here. Essentially, the malicious software encrypts or blocks access to the victim's files, pictures or documents and the only way out is to pay a ransom.
  • Botnet, click fraud - Cybercriminals use special Trojan viruses to breach the security of several users' computers. They then take control of each computer and organise all the infected machines into a network of 'bots' that the criminal can remotely manage.

No doubt you've noticed - These different forms of virus infection have different names and operate in different ways, but they have a single common aim - to steal your money.

The bad news? There's no 100% protection from the evil Virus-man.

The good news? You can drastically reduce the risk of attack.

And here's how - it's all on the last blog - Beware Virus-man - he's out to get you!

Just take a few simple precautions, and you should be fine.

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