How Does a Virus Spread?

Category: Viruses

I love your site and your Tourbus Newsletter! I would like to know how a virus propagates over a network? If you get a virus on one computer - do other users on the network have to do anything to get infected? Is there a good way to protect against this?

Great question! There are several ways for a virus to spread from one computer to another. Let's look at those, and ways to prevent the propagation of pestiferous programs.

Careful With That Paperclip...

The most common is via an email attachment. I'm not aware of any current exposures in popular email software that allow a virus to spread simply by opening or reading an email.

But plenty of people are still willing to open anything that pops into their inbox. Opening an attachment without verifying its contents with the sender is asking for trouble. Never run a program that you save to disk from an email attachment without anti-virus protection in place. The same goes for Word documents, which can have viruses in embedded macros.

Dubious Downloads

Another common way for a virus or spyware to spread is by piggybacking on other software that you download. If you just can't resist the latest toolbar, file-sharing gizmo, coupon dispenser or email enhancer, you may be at risk. Often these and other downloads come with malware, free of charge. Running a good anti-spyware program will reduce your risk.

Just Click NO!

Ever been to a website and gotten one of those "Click here to install and run {Whatever}" popups? Just click NO! Unless you know for sure that you need to press OK (such as when downloading security updates from Microsoft) then treat these popups as threats to your computer.

Sometimes It's NOT Nice to Share

If you are on a network, and you allow your hard drive to be shared (enabling other network users to read and write your files) then you are WIDE OPEN to the stupidity of the other users on the network. If any one of them got a virus, there's nothing to prevent it from copying itself to your computer via the network share. Unless you absolutely have to share your hard disk, don't. You can check to see if you have enabled sharing by right clicking on the drive icon in My Computer, then select Sharing.

The SneakerNet Menace

And don't forget portable media, such as floppies, CDROMs, and those nifty little flash drives that connect to a USB port. Assume that any file you copy from external media could be infected. Keeping your anti-virus protection enabled and updated should protect you here.

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Most recent comments on "How Does a Virus Spread?"

Posted by:

07 Sep 2005

I really like that you mentioned the SneakerNet menace. That is one source that is frequently overlooked. I have sometimes seen various "authorities" recommend that people only install software that comes in shrinkwrapped packages and/or straight from publishers. While this is usually a safe tip, I once received a virus on a disk from a textbook publisher. Along with the textbank to accompany the textbook I was using, I found a virus. Luckily, my virus detection software caught the interloper, but it certainly was a wake-up call for me to receive a virus from a so-called "trusted publisher." My subsequent phone call to the publisher was certainly a wake-up call for them too. :)

Posted by:

Kerry V
07 Sep 2005

A virus CAN spread simply by opening or reading an email if your operating system and/or e-mail program is not up-to-date on security patches, or if you have scripting enabled (which is often the default configuration for e-mail programs). If you set your e-mail program to read e-mail as plain text instead of HTML, it won't look so pretty but will provide an extra layer of protection.

Posted by:

01 Mar 2011

Keep in mind that just because a virus scanner detects a software as a virus does not mean that it did not return a false positive. What this means is, some legitimate softwares have code strings that resemble a malicious code, but are actually not malicious at all. Therefore a thorough examination of the detected files should be done.

Posted by:

Abraham Mordent
24 Aug 2013

"I defy elitist foe
By my demand for rights to know
The book of nature, secret lore.
I'll write it down and say much more,
By analogue in symbolism;
It's my belief in my religion:
Parasympathetic needs?
Or, cancer's cure in apple seeds!
Tree of Life? Or, Golden Bough!
Ubiquitous! I know it now.
My right to think. My right to say,
"Your culture's crud! I'll go my way."
Now I don't ask. I'm telling you.
I'll take the right to my own view."

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