Everyone... and I do mean everyone... who browses the internet, uses cute little Facebook apps, or clicks html links embedded in emails indiscriminately is vulnerable to very sneaky, sometimes undetectable (without virus software) computer viruses. Sometimes, they'll steal your credit card number when you type it in to buy those cute shoes on eBay. Sometimes they want to send annoying spam mail from your email software so the virus creator doesn't get in trouble with the law for running scams. And sometimes the creator writes them just to see how far they can spread them, tracking them in the wild like tagged elk.
No matter what they were created for, they are annoying and can waste you hours of time and effort... even if it's just in time spent waiting for web pages to load.
It's important to have anti-virus software even if you don't think you're infected... a good program (some of them free) will catch them before they even take root. I'm going to point you to one, but first, here's a list of symptoms that you might have a computer virus. Taken from http://www.microsoft.com/security/antivirus/indicators.aspx
- Your computer runs more slowly than normal
- Your computer stops responding or locks up often
- Your computer crashes and restarts every few minutes
- Your computer restarts on its own and then fails to run normally
- Applications on your computer don't work correctly
- Disks or disk drives are inaccessible
- You can't print correctly
- You see unusual error messages
- You see distorted menus and dialog boxes
Another one they didn't list was if you have an unusual number of friends and family from your email address book asking "What was with that weird Viagra email you sent me last week?" You might want to take that as a BIG sign. Unless, of course, you actually sent one yourself.
Anyway, even though newer versions of Windows have built-in defenses, right now most people are not running the most up-to-date version of Windows. Here's how to protect yourself and guard against future infection.
- UPDATE - I realize some of my family up in Minnesota are still stuck with dial-up connections, but it's still very important to connect to the Windows update service and get the latest security updates. These are fixes for security holes that virus creators have learned to exploit. Spackle them over with a hotfix update. Do this at least once a month.
- Get yourself some anti-virus software and set it up to regularly scan your computer... quick scans daily and a deep, thorough scan once a week. Most of them have the ability to shut down the computer when it's done running, so you can start it up when you're leaving the computer for the night, and even if the scan takes till three in the morning, it will shut itself down afterward.
- If disaster strikes, and you do contract a virus, learn how to clean the infection, or be prepared to re-format your operating system drive. Depending on your setup, this may mean losing a lot of data. Be prepared for this by NEVER keeping your "My Documents" folder on the same hard drive as your Windows drive. There's a way to ask the PC to move it in the "Properties" tab of the "My Documents" folder. At least then you won't lose your photos, documents, and other personal stuff.