How does a computer virus spread?

Written by michael roennevig Google
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How does a computer virus spread?
Viruses can be transferred via hardware and peripherals such as USB flash drives. (Jeffrey Hamilton/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Once a cyber criminal has gone to the not inconsiderable trouble of writing a virus, he's faced with the conundrum of how to get it onto as many people's devices as possible. Fortunately for online fraudsters, the methods of doing so are many, and plenty of tech users are far less cautious about their gadgets becoming infected with something nasty than they perhaps should be. The best way you can protect yourself from malware is knowing the risks of contracting it.

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Social

Social media platforms are awash with viruses embedded in links and messages. You could even contract dodgy code by liking something on Facebook. Avoid interacting with any content that looks suspicious. If you come across a link offering free tablet computers or hundreds of pounds worth of gratis shopping vouchers, you'll be able to be pretty sure it's not legit. Scammers attempting to spread viruses via social media often send messages that are designed to entice people to click through, such as pictures of scantily dressed men or women. Some malware will forward messages or links to a person's contacts, so maintain a healthy level of suspicion even when assessing content that apparently comes from a friend.

Downloads

Avoid downloading content from file sharing sites. If you feel you have to do so, scan anything you procure before opening it. Many media files and plenty of software posted on file sharing sites harbour malware. Only download legitimate content from reputable sources if you want to be as close to 100 percent confident as you can be that what you're getting is above board. You should also be wary of transferring to your devices from other people's gadgets or removable media. Transferring an infected music file from a USB stick to your PC will result in you contracting malware.

Emails

Hopefully most of the phishing emails that are sent to you will end up in your junk folder, but resist the temptation to open any strange messages from unrecognised sources that make their way into your inbox. It's even possible to get infected by simply opening an email that harbours malware. Downloading attachments from questionable messages is asking for trouble. If you don't recognise the sender, don't open the message, particularly if the subject line is telling you that you've won some money or need to update your banking login details.

Dodgy sites

Some cyber scammers set up websites whose main purpose is to infect visitors' machines with malicious code. A good antivirus application should protect your computer by redirecting you away from any dodgy sites you try to visit. Be especially cautious when visiting adult and gambling sites. If you must use the Internet to get some relief or throw your money away, avoid clicking on ads while doing so, as they can host viruses.

Lack of protection

Most people these days are savvy enough to make sure they have a reasonable antivirus program installed on their devices, but it's important to make sure your anti-malware applications are up to date, be they on your computer or smartphone. Antivirus software publishers update their programs with the latest virus definitions over the Internet on a daily basis. If your definitions are out of date, you could be vulnerable to the latest attacks. It's also important to make sure you're running the latest versions of any applications that connect to the Internet to make sure you have the latest security patches.

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