What Is a Computer Virus?

Posted by on January 4, 2014

We’re constantly warned against the risks posed by computer viruses and the need for protection in the form of anti-virus software.

But what is a computer virus, exactly? And do we really need to worry about it?

A computer virus is a piece of software that makes copies of itself, typically inserting these copies into other programs and files. It’s not always malicious, but when it is, it’s classified as a form of malicious software, or malware.

Viruses can spread between computers via removable media (such as discs, external hard drives, flash drives, media players and other devices that can store computer files), via the Internet or over a networked system.

A virus will almost always be attached to an executable (.exe) program, or a file designed to be opened by a specific program (for example, a “.doc” file that automatically opens in Microsoft Word. The virus will need the host program to be launched before it can become active — if the program isn’t launched, the virus will remain dormant.

When the host program is run on a computer, the virus is run as well. Typically, the host program will continue to run normally, although more virulent infections may damage the program so it doesn’t execute properly.

Viruses can have a number of negative effects, sometimes unintentionally. They can damage software so that it no longer runs correctly; erase files; or cause your computer to malfunction, run slowly, crash, reboot at random or break down altogether.

Other forms of malicious software, or “malware,” are often referred to as viruses, including worms, rootkits, Trojan horses, spyware and adware. This is a misnomer, however, because these forms of malware behave differently from true viruses.

Anti-virus software can detect and remove viruses after the computer has downloaded or executed an infected file. The most common method of detection involves examining the computer’s memory (RAM) and the boot sectors of the hard drive, then comparing their contents against a database of algorithms or hashes (numbers-derived text strings), each of which uniquely identifies a specific virus. These hashes are known as virus signatures.

Anti-virus software may also scan opened files and files sent via email. Anti-virus software needs to be updated regularly to catch new viruses.

Regular backups can also minimize the impact of a viral infection by preventing data loss.

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Tips offered to avoid common computer maintenance mistakes

Posted by on December 31, 2013

Simply put, computers are expensive. While their role in the ever-evolving technological world deems them necessary, many people are naive to ways to ensure they last long enough to make the price tag worthwhile.

With January designated as National Clean Up Your Computer Month, there are a number of strategies and misconceptions regarding maintaining a healthy computer to keep in mind.

Virus prevention is one of the most important steps to take to keep a computer or laptop running in tip-top shape. Lori Nelson, owner of Computers Etc. in Holyoke, and Steven Wright, IT technician at PC Telcom in Holyoke, both said the most common problems with the computers they see that need repair are due to virus issues.

“It is very important to keep an up-to-date antivirus program on your computer to defray other costs of having it repaired,” Nelson said.

While antivirus software and regular system scans for viruses are recommended, Nelson also noted that having an antivirus program does not 100 percent mean that a computer is protected. As thousands of new viruses pop up each day, antivirus developers are constantly working to find solutions to combat new viruses.

Computers Etc. technician Trey Bivins works to replace
the power supply on a computer tower Friday, Dec. 27.  

—Enterprise photo

Computers Etc. technician Trey Bivins pointed out that avoiding unknown programs can help prevent viruses from infecting a computer. He also stated a computer will continually run more smoothly if it is kept free of temporary files and cookies.

Justin Grant, manager of the tech department at Computers Etc., added that many downloaded programs may come with free trials for other programs, which may install advertising-supported software. This slows down computers and opens the door for viruses.

Another aspect of computer care that is often overlooked deals with temperature. Wright explained that computers can overheat. If placed in a bag while still running, although rare, the computer can actually overheat, effectively ruining the device.

Wright also shared a more advanced option for maintaining a healthy computer for PC users. He recommends creating restore points before installing new software as to create a snapshot of all settings on the computer.

Becoming familiar with the add/remove programs function in the control panel is also recommended by Wright. If an unwanted program is found, he suggests to consider removing it from the computer.

“It is a good idea to maintain a healthy level of suspicion when dealing with unfamiliar programs and sites,” Wright said.

Allowing outside access to personal computers can also leave people in a tough situation. Scammers claiming to be from computer manufacturing companies will make calls to people and state that their computers are acting up and ask to access the potential victim’s computer. The scammer will then extract personal information from the computer.

Nelson stated that unless someone has specifically called a business for computer support, they should never allow access to their computer from someone who calls.

Links in emails can also lead to sites that appear the same as banking agencies, but are set up just to attain personal banking information.

Free gaming sites and pop-up ads can also put a computer’s health in jeopardy. Grant noted that many viruses are loaded to a computer unknowingly to the user and without any actual program being downloaded. Cookies downloaded from sites automatically can cause viruses and worms.

A common misconception about viruses is that they are limited to personal computers and are not a problem for Macintosh products. This may have been more true in the past as PCs held a commanding lead of the market. However, as Macs become more popular, so do Mac viruses.

“Macs can absolutely get viruses,” Bivins said. “If you are using an Apple product, you need to take the same care of it as you would a PC.”

Nelson also pointed out that batteries on laptops are a source of much frustration for those who treat them as if they were a desktop. A laptop should not be plugged in at all times as it can ruin the battery.

Nelson suggests letting the battery run down before recharging and unplugging the device at night.

According to Bivins, most computers have a lifespan of 3-4 years as technology on the older machines becomes obsolete. With that in mind, Computers Etc. has extended its annual free computer recycling event through Friday, Jan. 10.

While the store does not typically accept old computers for recycling throughout the year due to space issues, this is the fifth year that recycling is offered for a limited time. Old towers and laptops are accepted while monitors and printers are not. All data from hard drives is deleted for privacy issues.

Holyoke Enterprise January 2, 2014

Super Bowl XLVII – The Dangers of Betting Online and On Your Smartphone

Posted by McAfee Blogging Team on February 1, 2013

With Super Bowl Sunday quickly approaching, tension is running high between San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens fans. Some people simply enjoy the thrill and excitement of watching the game with friends and family while rooting for their favorite team. Others raise the stakes (pun intended) higher and place monetary bets on the team they believe will take home the win.

Betting on the Super Bowl is a long standing tradition and in a recent article, Super Bowl XLVII is projected to bring in more than $90 million in bets, which is a growth of over $20 million in just 10 years!
More than 111.3 million people tuned in last year to see the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots with a score of 21 to 17. With the number of people watching the Super Bowl growing every year, so too will the number of bets placed. Technology is also playing a part in the increased amount of Super Bowl betting, specifically, with mobile devices including smartphones and tablets.

Sports betting apps allow smartphone and tablet users to place bets from their devices wherever they may be; People no longer have to place bets through a bookie or casinos. Users of these mobile apps need to be aware that the apps don’t just make online betting easier – the apps also make it easier for private information to be put at risk.

Signing up for websites and mobile apps that allow online betting requires providing sensitive private information. The registration process for these apps includes the typical information like your full name, address, email, and phone number. However, with that is the requirement to input credit card details, often kept in a database for future use in recurring payments, as well as an acceptance of the app privacy, which may include the distribution of your information to third-party buyers.

If you choose to place a bet on the game this weekend, be cautious and be aware. Below are 3 ways to better protect your personal information from cybercriminals.

  • Do your research: Make sure that all sites and apps are reputable or have been reviewed. Do not just type in “Super Bowl betting” in Google and choose the first option that come up.
  • Read all privacy policies: Before clicking accept, take the time to read the privacy policy to understand where your personal information is going. If you do not understand the terms of agreement do not put in your personal information. More often than not, sites and apps will make their privacy policies hard to understand and worded unclearly.
  • Don’t bet at all: The safest way to protect your personal information is to not engage in betting at all. Enjoy the atmosphere of your living room with friends and family and have fun watching the ads!

Have you ever been scammed online as a result of betting? You can further protect your personal information, McAfee® Mobile Security provides comprehensive protection against mobile device loss, viruses and web threats so that Android, BlackBerry and Symbian users can keep their personal life personal, outsmart identity thieves and connect with confidence.

We want to know – who are you rooting for in the upcoming Har-bowl? Jim or John? Comment below or tweet to us at @McAfee.

5 Ways to Ensure Online Privacy for Kids

Posted by McAfee Blogging Team on January 31, 2013

Congress and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have taken special steps to ensure that children under 13 years of age don’t share their personal information on the Internet without the express approval of their parents. Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998 and the FTC wrote a rule implementing the law. The FTC currently is conducting a review of what changes, if any, should be made to COPPA to reflect the changes that may have been brought about from technology, such as the rapid adoption of mobile devices.

Parents who lack experience with the Internet, computers, or mobile devices must learn the basics before they can adequately monitor their children’s habits. A parent’s discomfort or unfamiliarity with technology is no excuse to let a child run wild on the Internet. In fact, in McAfee’s study, “The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents” showed that an alarming 70% of teens have hidden online behavior from their parents.

As with any task, one should start with the fundamentals. Spend as much time as possible with kids in their online world. Learn about the people with whom they interact, the places they visit, and the information they encounter. Be prepared to respond appropriately, regardless of what sort of content they find. Remember, this is family time.

Here’s some tips to help you protect your kids:

  1. Narrow down devices: In the past, many of us set up our family computer in a high-traffic area, like the family room, but this becomes less feasible as more children have their own laptops and mobile phones. I recommend limiting time online and also limiting the number of devices your child has.
  2. Teach then appropriate online behavior: Kids will be kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say cruel things, send racy pictures, make rude requests, or suggest illegal behavior, just because they are online. If it isn’t okay in the physical world, it isn’t okay on the Internet. Also discuss with your kids what is and is not okay with regards to the kinds of websites they may visit and what type of content is ok to share or not share. They should also be taught to not open attachments or click on links from people they don’t know.
  3. Use parental controls: Consider investing in software with parental controls, which limit the sites your kids can access, times they are allowed online and the amount of time they spend online each day.
  4. Discuss stranger danger: Just like in the real-world, kids should be taught to never meet someone they know only online in person and that they should not chat or friend people they do not know.
  5. The Internet is forever: You and your kids need to understand that once things are posted online, they could live on forever. You no longer have control over that photo or video and it could come back to haunt them. They should follow the rule of thumb that they should not post or share anything they would not share with everyone.


The key to good online parenting lies in the basics of good offline parenting. Talking to your kids about the “rules of the road” for the Internet is just as important as talking to them to about things like looking both ways before they cross the street.


Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Evangelist to McAfee. (Disclosures)