Q&A about computer viruses

I do voluntary work for Viafrica. Today they asked me to create a Q&A document about computer viruses, to support a radio interview in Tanzania.
After writing it, I was pretty happy about the simpleness of it all, so I'm posting it here as well.

What is a computer virus?
A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself and infect a computer without the permission or knowledge of the owner.
Often, the virus dramatically slows down the computer, and it can steal passwords you type, and delete files from the computer. In the worst case, you will lose all data that was on the computer.

What is the difference between a computer virus and a real-life virus like Aids?
Well, computer viruses can be detected and stopped by antivirus software before any damage is done.
Also, a computer can be cleaned or reinstalled. And if the computer's files were backed up, you will not loose any data.
There is also a good comparison: both real life and computer viruses can spread without someone intentionally doing it, and an antidote must be developed before the virus can be stopped.

Where do these viruses come from?
Computer viruses are written by computer programmers. Sometimes they just want to show to the world how clever they are, but they can also be criminals, who want to steal your personal data like passwords and logins.

Can you give an example of a computer virus?
In september 2001, a virus called Nimda (=admin spelled backwards) spread across computer systems all over the world. In only 22 minutes, it became the biggest virus to date. It was programmed very clever, and was copying itself via email, websites, local networks, and the computer itself. Computers and networks around the world became unresponsive.
In the end, Nimda cost the industry at least 635 million dollars!

Should you be ashamed if you get a computer virus?
No. Nobody has to be ashamed if their computer gets a virus.

Is it your own fault if your computer gets a virus?
If you take the necessary precautions, then you only have a small chance of anything happening.
But even then, there is still a chance, because software problems are found all the time, which are exploited by virus writers to get computers infected. Unless you are a top notch programmer, you sometimes just can't help it.

What does it matter if your computer is infected?
The computer can get unresponsive and slow, and your files can get damaged beyond repair.
Also, sometimes it looks like nothing is wrong with your computer, but a virus is just waiting inside until a certain date, or until you enter a password for your creditcard or bank website. Then, it will send the password to criminals who will login with the password.

How can I protect my computer?
First, you need an antivirus program. There are programs for sale, but they are also available for free.
Also, you need to update the antivirus program regularly, so the program can recognize new viruses. The new viruses are the most important to stop, so updating is very necessary.
Then, you must make sure that you get updates for your computer software. A lot of viruses use an error in a program like Internet Explorer to spread around. You will not even notice when you get infected, but afterwards you will!

How do you notice you have a computer virus?
Normally, the antivirus program on your computer will show an alert that a virus is detected and stopped. In that case, everything is still good. The virus is eliminated, and you can just work on.
But if your computer has been getting a whole lot slower lately, or are getting a lot of error messages, you have a strong indication that something is wrong.

If I am the only person using the computer, and I am very carefull, nothing can happen?
Unfortunately, that is not true. As said before, a computer virus can happen to every computer. It can come from everywhere: email, a cd, dvd, network, usb stick, and the internet.

What can I do if I have a computer virus?
If an infection happens, and your antivirus program has not eliminated it, then it must be solved as soon as possible, so your files will not be lost.
You can come around at our service centre (?), or ask another computer expert to solve the problem.
Installing new updates for your antivirus program can also work, although sometimes this is not possible because it is prevented by the virus itself!
In any case, do not just continue working! If you do, you will very probably loose files, and your whole computer might have to be reinstalled.

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