What is a computer Virus?

A computer virus is a program that can copy itself and infect a computer without permission or knowledge of the user. A virus can spread from one computer to another over a network, via email, through the internet, or can be carried on a floppy disk, CD, DVD, or USB drive. Some viruses are designed to damage other programs, delete files, or reformat your hard drive. There are many viruses operating on the Internet today, and new ones are discovered every day.

What is Spyware?

Spyware is a type of software that monitors the actions of a computer user and is transmitted in a fashion similar to viruses. Spyware is often a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet. Like viruses, new types of spyware are discovered every day.

Spyware falls into a number of categories:

Software that may be installed legitimately to provide security or workplace monitoring.
Software with somewhat benign purposes associated with marketing data collection.

Software that is maliciously installed, either as a general violation of a user’s privacy or to collect information to allow further attacks on the computer or online transactions.

Spyware can gather information about user activity on the internet, e-mail addresses, passwords and credit card numbers (“keylogging"). The information collected is transmitted in the background to criminals.

How do I prevent computer viruses and spyware?

The best way is to install an anti-virus/anti-spyware program and make sure it is updated on a regular basis. There are several good, commercially available protection programs on the market (Search for “anti-virus" and “anti-spyware" using you favorite search engine). Run your anti-virus program it as recommended by the provider. The automatic update and scanning features should be kept on at all times to make sure that you protected from the latest viruses and spyware. Heed all warnings that your software provides.

When downloading a file from a web site or opening an attachment to an email, be sure you know the source. Only download files from known and trusted sites and individuals.

Can an email message or attachments infect my computer with a virus or spyware?

E-mail messages can have an attachment that may contain a virus or spyware. Your computer could become infected if you download an email message that has such an attachment, and you then open the attachment.

If you receive an unsolicited e-mail with an attachment, don't download it, and if your email software downloads it automatically, don't open the attachment. Simply delete the file and run your anti-virus software. It is recommended you disable the automatic download of attachments in your e-mail preferences.

Is it possible to get a virus or spyware from a web site?

Most web site operators take great care to ensure there are no viruses on their systems. However, in some cases it is possible to get a virus or spyware from a web site.

Updated anti-virus/anti-spyware software installed on your computer will normally recognize the virus and stop it.

To protect yourself, download only from known sites, and run a virus scanner on the files you download.

For up to date information on computer viruses please see News and Alerts.