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What Is a Computer Virus?

A computer virus actually is similar in many ways to a biological virus: A biological virus invades your body’s system and replicates itself; likewise, a computer virus invades your computer’s system and also replicates itself. Computer viruses can be destructive (like the AIDS virus) or simply annoying (like any of several viruses that cause the common cold). Just as you try to protect your own body from biological viruses and find a cure when you become infected, you want to protect your computer from computer viruses and find a cure if its system ever becomes infected.

Unlike biological viruses, a computer virus is not alive (although it may seem like it if one of the pesky things manages to infest your computer). A virus is actually a rogue computer program that injects copies of itself into other programs on your computer system. Viruses typically invade executable program and system files—the very heart of your computer system. Some viruses merely display an annoying message on your screen or send unwanted e-mails to everyone on your contact list; other more deadly viruses actually destroy your software programs or system information. The worst of this loathsome bunch are difficult both to detect and dislodge because they craftily conceal themselves from observation and doggedly defend against removal.


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