Where do Computer Viruses Come From?


Where do Computer Viruses Come From?

It seems like over half the time I am called out on a client site to remove a virus from someone’s computer, I get asked the universal question, “Where do viruses come from?”  or “Why do viruses even exist?”  I’ll explain what I tell them.

Viruses don’t occur in cyber space naturally like biological viruses do, of course.  A programmer has to create them.  So, we are at fault for all of the headaches we deal with when trying to prevent or remove viruses infected on our systems.  So why do we do it?  Or maybe I should say, “Why do THEY do it.”  Here are a few reasons why:

–  Identity Theft/Restricted Data Theft

–  Bragging Rights

–  To Gain Remote Control of Your PC

–  To damage organizations or competing business entities

I’ll explain a bit more in detail.

Identity Theft/Restricted Data Theft

In this scenario your computer has been infected with a virus that records information from your computer and transmits that information back to the virus creator or host machine.  In many cases the virus doesn’t actually seek out data on your computer but rather sits and monitors your activity on the internet and data you send to the internet like for example; credit card information, passwords, or personal identity information.  Then the virus transmits that information to the host computer.

Bragging Rights

In some cases viruses are created and distributed purely for the satisfaction of the programmer that created it.  The more computers that get infected by the particular virus the more sense of accomplishment the programmer can claim.  Many times these types of viruses don’t even pose much of a threat as much as they cause annoying pop ups or difficulties with using the computer’s operating system.

To Gain Remote Control of Your PC

In the case of viruses that provide remote access to your computer, this may not necessarily be full access to your computer but rather can slave your computer to the host machine which may send your computer commands to perform actions that benefit the virus programmer in some way.  Computers that have become infected may assist the host machine by finding restricted data from the slave computer’s local network, or another action would be to simply send a stream of unnecessary data from the slave computer to a 3rd party website or network.  In the event that there are hundreds or even thousands of computers infected and they are all sending junk data to a 3rd party, this causes the 3rd party site to become flooded and no longer functions normally.  So the programmer of the virus may be a member or a competing organization with the 3rd party and since their virus is infected on several various unrelated workstations there is virtually no way to tie the flooding of the website or network to the programmer who created the virus.

To Damage Organizations or Competing Business Entities

Now there are viruses that actually damage your computer or are created to spread from computer to computer over a network and once in place, they search out the operating system and corrupt or delete specific files.  These types of viruses are usually created by a programmer with an opposite agenda then the organization the programmer has infected with the virus.  Again the virus can perform an array of functions but the basic idea is that it disrupts the organization’s function.  These kinds of viruses spread very well over email since most organizations send lots of emails internally, but in such scenarios this can infect computers even outside the organization and so individuals who were not even targeted become collateral damage.

In any case viruses for the time being are here to stay. At least until we can put a stop to smart people willing to benefit themselves at the expense of others.  


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Todd Walls

Systems Engineer
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