Understanding the Different Types of Computer Viruses

July 13, 2020 • April Miller

Staying informed about the threats facing your computer is the first step in defending against them. If you know what to watch out for, you can more easily avoid risks. A good place to start is with knowing the different types of computer viruses that are out there.

All viruses are malicious bits of code that spread from user to user, harming their host computers. Different types of viruses go about this in a variety of ways, though. Knowing some common signs of these viruses will help you stay protected.

Virus vs. Malware

You may hear people use the words “virus” and “malware” interchangeably, but that’s not entirely correct. Think of it like rectangles and squares. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares, and it’s the same with viruses and malware.

There are more than one billion pieces of malware on the internet right now, but not all of these are viruses. Even so, viruses are a considerable portion of this malware, and a varied one too. Here are five types of computer virus you may encounter.

1. Resident Viruses

Resident viruses hide in your computer’s RAM. Since they reside in the memory, they can infect any file that you run. As a result, resident viruses spread especially fast if not detected and removed early.

Many types of computer virus need users to execute certain processes to work, but not resident viruses. Instead, whenever you run a program or open a file, it activates the virus. This all makes it particularly challenging to find and remove resident viruses.

2. Direct Action Viruses

Direct action viruses are another type of computer virus that infects your files. Unlike resident viruses, though, they target a specific file type, most often .exe and .com files. They attach themselves to file and once you open it, they activate and spread.

Direct action viruses can restrict your access, but don’t delete anything or hinder your computer’s performance. You can also find them without much trouble.

3. Overwrite Viruses

Viruses don’t have to be complicated to be effective. Overwrite viruses are a prime example of this concept, overwriting the content in a file, as their name implies. This behavior means you must delete the infected file to get rid of the virus.

Since they destroy content, this type of computer virus is especially harmful. One of the most significant malware pandemics in history, the ILOVEYOU outbreak, involved overwriting.

4. Browser Hijackers

A less severe but more common type of computer virus is browser hijackers. Like overwrite viruses, these do what their name suggests they do. They take over your browser to redirect you to different websites.

The websites browser hijackers open could just be irritating advertisements but could also be more malicious. You usually don’t have to worry about them much, though. Nowadays, most browsers include built-in protection against browser hijackers.

5. Multipartite Viruses

Multipartite viruses are one of the most threatening types of computer virus. Unlike most other viruses, multipartite viruses can infect your computer through a variety of ways. They can target both files and your computer’s boot sector simultaneously.

Since multipartite viruses can infect so many different applications, they can spread much faster than some other viruses. This feature also makes it difficult for you to address this virus type. Typically, you’ll need an advanced antivirus software or expert help.

Staying Safe from All Virus Types

It would be near impossible to list every specific type of computer virus there is. These five are some of the most common, though, and demonstrate a variety of virus behaviors. Understanding how they can infect your computer can help you know what you need to protect.

Antivirus software can take care of many of these viruses. Even with this layer of protection, you should be careful to avoid downloading any files that may be infected. If you know what dangers face you, though, you can know how cautious you need to be.

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