Following on from last weeks article relating to potential threats to your children when it comes to them using the Internet, I thought I would continue the theme of Internet safety by identifying one of the key areas that could affect your computer on the web; Viruses.

In order to get a better understanding of what people consider to constitute a virus, I looked the word up in a dictionary and discovered the meaning for an organic based virus or viruses is as follows.
‘ Viruses - Viruses do not respire, nor do they display irritability; they do not move and nor do they grow; however, they do most certainly reproduce, and may adapt to new hosts.’
Now to compare that definition to the computer style of virus, the last statement is certainly the most important - ‘They do most certainly reproduce and may adapt to new hosts’.
A computer virus is a man made program designed to infect a machine, cause a desired side effect; destructive or otherwise and then replicate itself into any other files it may come into contact with. The user of the computer could then pass on this file, completely unaware that it is infected.
Once the infected file is run, the virus then again has a chance to self-replicate and to be passed on. Much in the same way a human virus can cause the person to sneeze to pass itself on, a computer virus can trigger the computer to send out an infected file to as many other computers as possible, often e-mailing itself to everybody in your e-mail address book for example.

So why do people make viruses since there is no way to extract gain from it since even admitting to constructing a virus with intent to cause harm could land you in court? The answer is because they enjoy the challenge, a chance to be acknowledged by fellow hackers and the fact that they can possibly do it without getting caught - basically 21st century vandalism. No one likes a vandal though, and so luckily there are many good programs that are available on the market that allow you to even the playing field.

Simply speaking, there are two options, you can either buy a Virus Scanner package from a computer store or use a Virus Scanner program for free over the Internet. In the first instance, you won’t go far wrong if you look at the sites for Doctor Solomon’s Anti-Virus, McAfee VirusScan or Norton Anti-Virus, the addresses for which are at the end of this article. These programs not only scan all the files on your computer for viruses, but also look at files coming onto the computer by e-mail, floppy disk, CD-ROM etc., so that a virus doesn’t even get the chance to strike. Typically, these programs will cost in the region of around £20-£30, and can be easily updated for free off the Internet in order to keep informed about the dozens of viruses that are released daily.

The other option, as I mentioned above is to use a virus scanner over the Internet, essentially free, although you don’t get the same level of protection as a purchased virus scanner, as it will only detect viruses on the computer, and not warn you if a virus is sent by e-mail or attempts to load itself onto the system from an removable drive, such as CD-ROM or floppy disk. This isn’t such a big problem in my opinion, as typically viruses lay dormant for a period of time before triggering and causing damage, so as long as you give your system a quick sweep over the Internet every couple of weeks, you should have no problems, however not all viruses will act in this way and so this tactic is not foolproof by any means.
One of my favourite web-based virus scanners can be found at The software will typically take a couple of minutes to download, but you will be sure to always have the most up-to date version.

Other than that, there are a number of simple common sense steps you can take to ensure that you minimise the possibility of a virus strike. For example, don’t download files from sources that you do not trust or e-mails from addresses you don’t recognise. In addition, many websites continually check the files stored on them for viruses and so always try to download files off these if possible. Finally, be sure to let anybody that uses your computer know that these steps should be followed and your Internet experience should be free of troubles.

To round off, it is ultimately up to you to decide which solution you want to opt for, I suggest that just to get used to principle of a virus checker, you check out the above link for the web-based virus checker and read the articles published in the links below and then make your decision based on how concerned you are with the threat of a virus and how important the data is that you are protecting.

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