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How Did My Computer Get a Virus and What Can I Do About It?

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There are many ways a computer can get a virus, even if it is "protected" by antivirus software.

There are many ways a computer can get a virus, even if it is "protected" by antivirus software.

Well, the prognosis is in and your computer has a System Transmitted Disease (STD). I often get the response, "But I used anti-virus protection, so how did I get a virus?" First, let's understand that anti-virus software is reactionary. This means that a virus must exist before it can be discovered and responded to by your computer and its antivirus software.

How Can You Get a Virus if You Have Antivirus Software?

There are many ways a virus can land on your computer even if you have antivirus software installed and running. Let's take a look at a few of the most common.

A New Virus Can Arrive Before You Have Protection

As an example, let's say a person releases a virus on day one. It takes time (let's say a day) for the virus to be discovered, then more time (another day) for a software company to devise a "cure," then more time (another day) to distribute the cure and defense to computers worldwide.

In this case, the virus has been in the world without anyone having a way to cure it or protect against it for four days. During this time, all computers are at risk of getting the virus. Of course, one day between each step of the process is an overly optimistic example—it usually takes days or weeks.

The creators of viruses are intelligent, albeit destructive, people that plan their creations much like a general of an army or a chess master. They attack with a purpose and often have defenses and counter moves in place to stymie the antivirus software makers. I often encounter secondary payloads and undocumented viruses long before the antivirus companies find them or create a cure. As such, the virus writers will often attack the very protections you rely upon and in some cases will infect them and take them over.

Your Antivirus Software May Be Expired or You May Not Have Updated It

The next reason for getting a virus while having antivirus protection is that you don't really have protection. Antivirus software is not a one time purchase that protects you forever. Most require a subscription (like a magazine) that allows you to get the above-described "cures" and protections for the growing number of threats. If you allow that subscription to run out, you are still protected from the old viruses but not from the new ones. I have some customers who come in with 4-year-old antivirus software that isn't up to date.

Many new computers come preloaded with antivirus software. But just like the Microsoft Office often included, it is only a trial copy good for 60 or 90 days. It then expires unless you pay. Too many people don't realize this and think they have protection. Without that protection, you are at risk.

It May Have Gotten in Vva Other Software

Not unlike a gopher who digs a hole under your fence that you don't notice, other critters can use that hole to get into your yard. If you install cutesy software like toolbars or do music downloads or other such activities, you run increased risks of getting faulty software or getting spyware on your computer. Once spyware gets in, it leaves openings for hackers and viruses to get in as well. So be cautious.

You May Have Inadvertently Downloaded It Yourself

Another way a virus can waltz onto your cyber-ballroom floor is for you to ask it to dance. There are a variety of devious methods devised to get you to allow Dracula into your home. One such method is the red X in the upper right corner of a program window. Many of us have encountered a website that throws pop-up windows everywhere on our screen. The inclination is to click the red X to close the windows out. This can be the permission the virus needed to get past your defenses. Never click the X in the corner in a pop-up window.

The reason for not clicking the X is that a pop-up can be created without any window controls. This means no X or square to minimize, maximize, restore, or close a window. If one can program a window with no controls, they can create web controls through which the X equates to a "yes, install that virus, spyware, or other bad software on my PC."

How to Avoid Downloading a Virus From a Pup-Up Window

Instead, hold the ALT key down and tap the F4 key until all browser windows are closed. If you get one that won't close because the X is grayed out and you have to choose (usually) Yes or No, don't pick either. Hold your CTL and ALT keys down and press the DEL(ete) key once. Once Task Manager (this is all oriented to Windows users) is up, Right-click and End Process Tree on all IEXPLORE.exe processes on the process tab.

The Takeaway

One last thought about your anti-virus software. Your software actually may be lacking the ability to stop viruses without making your computer unusable or making it more susceptible to problems. One big named antivirus maker that was used by many Internet providers (A-O-SMELL) in their software once admitted to having security flaws that increased security threats. Many antivirus software programs try to do it all and end up making your computer worse than the viruses themselves or can't remove them for you.

You can try to inoculate yourself, however, these days, you will likely need the help of an experienced local repair shop. Most computer STDs can be cured without wiping your system clean by a knowledgeable technician, but in the last few years, most people have backups of their data and so frequently do.

With System Restore, System Refresh, and System Reload, you can quickly recover from most viruses. The only reasons to go through the time and expense of a comprehensive cleaning is if you don't have a good backup, you have software that you can't reinstall (missing media or licenses), or if the time to reload and re-setup your system would be more expensive in time and money.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Potterville


Cecil Kenmill from Osaka, Japan on January 01, 2019:

Holy-moly! This is very important stuff! Never click the X? I never would have thought of that. Thanks for the info!