Software used to infect a computer. After the virus code is written, it is buried within an existing program. Once that program is executed, the virus code is activated and attaches copies of itself to other programs in the computer and other computers in the network. Infected programs continue to propagate the virus, which is how it spreads.
The effect of the virus may be a simple prank that pops up a message on screen out of the blue, or it may destroy programs and data right away or on a certain date. For example, the famous Michelangelo virus contaminated the machine on Michelangelo's birthday.
Viruses Must Be Run to Do Damage
A virus is a self-contained program that attaches itself to an existing application in a manner that causes it to be executed when the application is run. Macro viruses are similar. The virus code has replaced some or all of the macro commands. Likewise, it is in the execution of the macro that the damage is done (see macro language
"In the Wild"
The term "computer virus" was coined in the early 1980s, supposedly after a graduate student presented the concept of a program that could "infect" other programs. Since then, more than a million viruses have been defined. However, the bulk of the infections are from only a few hundred active variants, said to be "in the wild."
Since 1993, the WildList Organization has been keeping track of virus attacks around the world. For more information, visit www.wildlist.org. For a sampling of different virus infections, see virus examples
. See in the wild
, dangerous extensions
, macro virus
, email virus
, behavior detection
, polymorphic virus
, stealth virus
, boot virus
, virus hoaxes
and crypto rage
John von Neumann theorized that a computer program could replicate itself in his 1949 paper "Theory and Organization of Complicated Automata," and computer scientist Fred Cohen described the logic for several types of viruses in his 1984 paper "Computer Viruses - Theory and Experiments." See von Neumann architecture
Windows Vs. Mac
Almost all Windows users install an antivirus program in their computers, while many Mac users do not. Windows computers are attacked constantly, because they make up the huge majority of personal computers and are therefore the low-hanging fruit. In addition, the Mac is a Unix-based machine, and the Unix architecture separates the operating system from the applications, which makes it harder to crack, although not impossible. While the majority of Mac users do not use antivirus software, there have indeed been successful virus attacks against Macs, and Mac users are installing antivirus more than they have in the past. See antivirus program
A Disease - Really?
The concept of a computer "disease" seemed rather foreign in 1989 when this caption from the definition for virus in "The Computer Glossary" was published. Back then, nobody would have believed that millions of viruses were to follow.