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French Version

Viruses, trojan horses and worms: Dissecting the ‘parasites’

For a start, you need to sort out the differences between viruses, torjan horses and worms...

I GET a lot of questions from people about computer viruses like why they’ve got so many names, why they spread differently, and why they cause such varied types of damage. For a start, you need to sort out the differences between viruses, torjan horses and worms.
Viruses came along first, in the mid-eighties. The term virus is used as a ‘generic’ reference to any malicious code that may or may not actually be a computer virus. A ‘real’ virus is a small program written to alter the way a computer operates, without the permission or knowledge of the user. To be considered a virus, it must must execute and then replicate itself. As for the types of viruses, there are several sources which classify them differently. The classification which seems most logical goes as follows: First, there’s the ‘file infector’ which infects program files—usually .exe files. Second, is the ‘Boot Sector virus’ that infect the system area of a disk with a small program in the boot record that is run when the computer starts up. Third are ‘Master boot record viruses’ which are memory resident viruses that infect disks in the same manner as boot sector viruses. The difference between these two virus types is where the viral code is located. Fourth are ‘Multi-partite’ viruses which infect both boot records and program files. These are particularly difficult to repair. Among the new wave is the fifth type of viruses, which are ‘Macro’ viruses that infect data files. These infect Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access files. Newer strains are now turning up in other programs. Now we can move to trojan horses, which are files that claim to be something desirable but, in fact, are malicious. A very important distinction from true viruses is that they do not replicate themselves, as viruses do.

For a trojan horse to spread, you must, in effect, invite these programs onto your computers—for example, by opening an e-mail attachment. Now we’ll take a look at the latest form of software parasites: Worms.

They are programs that replicate themselves from system to system without the use of a host file. This is in contrast to viruses, which requires the spreading of an infected host file. Although worms generally exist inside other files, often Word or Excel documents, there is a difference between how worms and viruses use the host file. The entire document will travel from computer to computer. Worms are also spread by manipulating Microsoft Outlook. Here’s a tip, don’t download a .VBS file, it’s probably a worm.

Finally, there’s one more thing you need to watch out for and it seems to be catching. It is know as a ‘virus hoax’ by which you receive a message that informs you of an upcoming virus threat, or identifies a file in your computer as a virus waiting to explode, thereby misleading you into deleting it and causing all kinds of havoc. If you get such a mysterious e-mail message, handle it with care.

Now that you know what a virus is, you should also be able to negate your fears regarding computer malfunctions that are not caused by viruses. It’s a common mistake to assume that every computer malfunction is a virus. That’s just an uneducated guess. The rule is not to guess at all, just run the latest version of your anti-virus software, which is constantly updated. If there isn’t a virus in your computer then it just requires hardware or software maintenance.

Good luck, and keep your PC clean.

Zeid Nasser
The Star

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