Are computer viruses spread by the media?
If you accept what you listen to in the media, there are a terrible lot of viruses going around. No, I’m not speaking about the make-you-sick type of virus, though they get a ton of airtime, too. I’m speaking regarding the kind of virus that penetrates via your internet connection instead of your nasal passages.
What the mainstream media usually don’t tell you–at least, in most radio and television newscasts and the critical headlines and intro paragraphs of newspaper articles– is that many of these “viruses” are not even viruses.
What Computer Viruses Really Are
The main justification the mainstream media consistently are in alarm over viruses is that they tend to call any malicious computer code a virus. In fact, there are at least eleven different kinds of malicious software, or malware, generally affecting computers today. The most typical of these are worms, Trojans, and spyware.
So, what’s the dissimilarity between computer viruses and other kinds of malware? The difference is that computer viruses are just about the only ones that regularly shut down computers and force other obvious damage. The most typical of the other kinds of malware–worms, Trojans, and spyware–are usually only detectable by using a special scan.
The Real Danger of Computer Viruses
If the other kinds of malware are so unobtrusive that they can only be noticed with a special scan, then what’s to be concerned about? For starters, these programs are named malicious for a cause: they are prepared to cause some kind of harm, if not to your computer, then to somebody else’s.
Worms are most famously employed to damage, destroy, or disrupt other computer networks than the one on which the host computer is found. For instance, worms have been used by website owners to shut down rival websites by transmitting overwhelming digits of requests to the computer that hosts that website. Worms have also been used to send out viruses to further computers, usually without infecting the host machine–after all, what would be the benefit of the worm to shut down its host computer?
Trojans, in turn, are often used to implant worms and other malware on your computer, even if the Trojan itself does no harm.
But even if you don’t care what occurs to anyone else, you should still be concerned about one kind of malware: spyware, a kind of malware that, true to its title, gathers data from your computer and transmits it back to a remote host.
Most spyware is solely interested in monitoring your internet usage so it can inform other programs, named adware, what advertisement to popup on your computer. However, there are criminal spyware programs that rob financial data or conduct thorough identity theft. Don’t believe you have personal or financial data on your computer? Some spyware programs include a keylogger, which is a program that copies whatever you type, usually to grab passwords. Even if you keep no financial data on your computer, if you ever purchase anything over the web, the keylogger would authorize its owner to buy stuff using the same data you typed in to purchase stuff for yourself.
Why Blame the Media?
Given the risk of all these various types of malware, isn’t it a good thing that the mass media are becoming agitated about it? And can’t they be excused from the careless reporting of calling Trojans, worms, spyware, and other malware “viruses”?
No, no, no.
This is a classic case of flawed reporting doing more harm than no reporting at all. In this case, the damage bad reporting has done is to encourage a common myth that goes something like this: “The only malicious software is a virus. Viruses harm your computer. Therefore, if my computer is functioning OK, it has no malicious software. I only need to scan my computer for concerns when there is a sign of problems.”
Appreciations to this myth, many people complacently let their antivirus software go months out of date, not willing to be concerned with scheduling an automatic update. Just as evil, many people don’t have any extra software to fight the other kinds of malware that may not be shielded by antivirus software.
In fact, it’s not unusual for people who have discovered malware on their computers after a scan to say, “but I never had malware on my computer back!” But how would they have learned if they had never scanned!
Until the most significant mainstream media–and particularly television–start enlightening the public about the necessity to have their computers automatically scanned at least every day, the world will resume having major, drawn-out problems with malware that could have been wiped out ASAP the anti-malware software makers found it.
And until that day, the mainstream media will have many more chances to run agitated stories about “viruses,” thereby pushing them to sell more newspapers and broadcast to even bigger audiences of people who suck at the details through yet somehow never become full.