ver the last 18 months or so, the COVID-19 pandemic has been at the forefront of everyone's mind. The virus has had a devastating impact across the world, and although the situation may be improving in some countries, in others it's worse than ever. It will be some time before our lives go back to normal, assuming they ever will.
It's clear that a traditional, biological virus such as SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, Coronavirus, or whatever you choose to call it offers up a huge threat to humanity. We've seen it not just recently, but throughout history too. What's interesting to note is that computer viruses are aptly named; they can also bring terror and destruction. Even if they are not deadly like their biological counterparts, they tend to work similarly – there are a number of parallels.
A traditional virus, such as COVID-19, will replicate within the living cells of an organism. The virus uses its host's own resources to grow and thrive, which is why when someone is infected with a virus, they will feel unwell. However, the virus won't be content with that – it will then continue to replicate in order to infect as many other people as possible. The faster a virus can spread, the more devastation it can cause. With Coronavirus, the result of this incredibly fast replication means that there have been approximately 3.9 million deaths and 178,000,000 cases throughout the world.
How is a computer virus similar? A computer virus will also replicate, only this time it will do so within your network or computer system, or even on a single hard drive of a laptop. It will feed off the energy of the computer that it is infecting and, like a traditional virus, it will want to infect as many other systems as possible. To do this, the computer virus will copy itself within emails, attachments, or even through the internet. Anyone who clicks on a link, opens an attachment, or downloads a suspicious item will become open to the virus.
As you can see, the computer virus is undoubtedly well-named as it 'lives' and replicates in much the same way as a biological virus.
As you will have seen with COVID-19, once someone catches a traditional virus, it will incubate for a short while before manifesting into symptoms. For Coronavirus, that incubation period can be between two days and two weeks. During this time it can still be passed onto others, which is what makes a virus like this particularly dangerous and why self-isolation and lockdowns have been used to combat the pandemic. The host does not know that they are infected, so they go about their everyday life, and along the way they are potentially infecting everyone that they meet. In turn, those people won't know that they're infected for up to two weeks and will infect many more people. This is how the problem starts.
Computer viruses do a similar thing. They will lay dormant for a period of time – how long depends on the creator's plan – and will only start to cause harm once a specific program has been opened or a certain time period has passed. The difference between a computer virus and a traditional one is that the computer virus won't be doing any damage whilst it is inactive.
Viruses never stay the same, take COVID-19 for example. As of February 2021, there were 677 known mutations of the virus, showing that it is changing and mutating all the time. These mutations have helped to make the virus more transmissible, which has made COVID-19 even harder to fight.
Can a computer virus do the same thing? Can it mutate in this way? The answer is yes, it can. A computer virus can actually change its own code so that it is no longer detectable by antivirus software. This makes it much harder to find and remove, as every time you think you are close, something changes, and it becomes dangerous once more.
The mutations that we have talked about are a specific form of self-preservation and self-defence. The more mutations a virus can go through, the stronger it will be. You can think of it like a wanted criminal switching from car to car to evade the police – the more this happens, the harder it is for the police to stop them and the criminal will come into contact with more people along the way.
When it comes to computer viruses, they can also protect themselves. Some, although not all, will 'learn' how to defend themselves against antivirus software and will then use that knowledge to grow and change, this makes them much harder to defeat.
It's quite amazing to see just how similar traditional viruses such as COVID-19 and computer viruses are. Luckily, this means that the methods used for defeating traditional viruses are somewhat transferable to computer viruses.
Vaccinations are crucial. When a human is vaccinated against a virus, that virus can no longer spread, eventually dying out. When a computer is 'vaccinated' (or rather, when it is loaded with antivirus software), the same thing is true.
However, vaccinations alone are not enough – damage can still be done, and often is. To prevent becoming infected in the first place, protective measures must be put in place. For biological viruses, we need to remember to wash our hands, cover our faces, and try not to come into contact with anyone who could be infected. For a computer virus, it's essential to learn about suspicious emails and links. Proper hygiene and understanding, along with the right tools to fight the virus, will stop it in its tracks.
There are clearly a great number of parallels between the spread of a traditional virus compared to that of a computer virus. When a traditional virus threatens people’s health, action is taken to ensure that the damage is minimised, this should be the same with computer viruses.
At Gemraj Technologies Ltd, we can help. Our team’s experience and knowledge mean that we can help to ensure that your computer systems are protected against viruses.