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Question: What is a computer virus?

Good morning.

I was wondering if you could explain exactly what a computer virus IS.



Hey, that's a great question. Well, to understand what a virus is, you need to understand what a computer program is, because that's exactly what a virus is: a computer program.

A program (what we usually call "software") is a list of instructions for a computer to execute. Generally, people program computers to do helpful things (word processors, calculators, email programs, are all examples of helpful programs).

But sometimes people write programs that do unhelpful things. A program that erases all the files on your hard drive, or a program that emails your personal files to all your friends--or even complete strangers. This kind of program is a virus.

But why call it a virus? Well, like a virus, it can be very destructive. Also, a virus propogates and spreads itself, and most computer viruses also have a mechanism for spreading themselves. One very common mechanism a virus uses to spread itself is to grab email addresses it finds on the computer, and then email itself to other computers.

Obviously, all of this means that viruses are man made. They don't grow on trees, or spontaneously generate. Every computer virus was invented and designed by a person. Clearly, we don't have a very high opinion of these creeps--though it requires a certain degree of intelligence to create a virus, it takes a an even greater degree of anti-social, self-involved stupidity to release it on the computing community.

That's my personal opinion and I'm sticking to it.

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