The majority of people visualise the result of a computer virus to be a blank screen or smoke rising from their computer. But most computer viruses don’t do any obvious damage to your machines, instead they work in the background to steal either personal information or your precious computer resources – often the cause of the dreaded “slow down”.
The reason that these “silent attacks” are more common than an obvious blank screen is because they can be used to earn money for the virus’s programmer, either by selling the stolen information to another individual or company, or using it themselves.
This is where anti-virus programs come in. They create walls around your machine’s vital areas to protect them from such attacks, and they also work in the background to neutralise viruses if they manage to slip by their defences. They do this, for the most part, via the use of “virus definitions”. Virus definitions should be downloaded periodically and any good anti-virus program will have a function allowing them to be downloaded automatically. Virus definitions are important because the programmers that earn their living by exploiting your machine are always coming up with new viruses and ways to attack, so these definition files keep the AV software up to date with the latest way to defend against them.
But be careful when you choose an AV program. Some companies who produce them feed off your paranoia, and it’s possible you might end up with bloated programs that will prevent you from tying your own shoelaces, if your socks haven’t been scanned for viruses first. However, there are many good AV programs out there (some are even free!), and each will protect you, your machine and your data from the forces of evil.
However, all of them require you, the user, to take some responsibility for your defences. You can do this by always making sure that your definitions are up to date, and regularly running virus scans to spot and eliminate anything that has slipped the net.