The most common question asked by not-so-informative net audience is the definition of a computer virus. I may say that a computer virus is a type of legitimate program. So what is that makes a virus stand apart from the rest?
In simple terms computer viruses are small software programs that are designed to spread from one computer to another and to interfere with computer operation.
A virus might corrupt or delete data on your computer, use your e-mail program to spread itself to other computers, or even erase everything on your hard disk.
Computer viruses are often spread by attachments in e-mail messages or instant messaging messages. That is why it is essential that you never open e-mail attachments unless you know who it’s from and you are expecting it. Viruses can be disguised as attachments of funny images, greeting cards, or audio and video files.
Viruses also spread through downloads on the Internet. They can be hidden in illicit software or other files or programs you might download.
The different types of viruses are as follows-
1) Boot Sector Virus: Boot sector viruses infect either the master boot record of the hard disk or the floppy drive. The boot record program responsible for the booting of operating system is replaced by the virus. The virus either copies the master boot program to another part of the hard disk or overwrites it. They infect a computer when it boots up or when it accesses the infected floppy disk in the floppy drive. i.e. Once a system is infected with a boot-sector virus, any non-write-protected disk accessed by this system will become infected.
Examples: Form, Disk Killer, Michelangelo, and Stone virus
2) Program viruses: These infect executable program files, such as those with extensions like .BIN, .COM, .EXE, .OVL, .DRV (driver) and .SYS (device driver). These programs are loaded in memory during execution, taking the virus with them. The virus becomes active in memory, making copies of itself and infecting files on disk.
Examples: Sunday, Cascade
3) Multipartite viruses: A hybrid of Boot and Program viruses. They infect program files and when the infected program is executed, these viruses infect the boot record. When you boot the computer next time the virus from the boot record loads in memory and then starts infecting other program files on disk.
Examples: Ghostball was the first multipartite virus, discovered by Fridrik Skulason in October 1989. Other examples are Invader, Flip, etc.
4) Stealth viruses: These viruses use certain techniques to avoid detection. They may either redirect the disk head to read another sector instead of the one in which they reside or they may alter the reading of the infected file’s size shown in the directory listing. For instance, the Whale virus adds 9216 bytes to an infected file; then the virus subtracts the same number of bytes (9216) from the size given in the directory.
Examples: Frodo, Joshi, Whale
5) Polymorphic viruses: A virus that can encrypt its code in different ways so that it appears differently in each infection. These viruses are more difficult to detect.
Examples: Involuntary, Stimulate, Cascade, Phoenix, Evil, Proud, Virus 101
6) Macro Viruses: A macro virus is a computer virus that “infects” a Microsoft Word or similar application and causes a sequence of actions to be performed automatically when the application is started or something else triggers it. Macro viruses tend to be surprising but relatively harmless.A macro virus is often spread as an e-mail virus.
Examples: DMV, Nuclear, Word Concept, Melissa Worm.
7) Active X: ActiveX and Java controls will soon be the scourge of computing. Most people do not know how to control there web browser to enable or disable the various functions like playing sound or video and so, by default, leave a nice big hole in the security by allowing applets free run into there machine. There has been a lot of commotion behind this and with the amount of power that JAVA imparts, things from the security angle seem a bit gloom.
What is a Trojan horse?
Trojan horses are impostors—files that claim to be something desirable but, in fact, are malicious. A very important distinction between Trojan horse programs and true viruses is that they do not replicate themselves. Trojan horses contain malicious code that when triggered cause loss, or even theft, of data. For a Trojan horse to spread, you must invite these programs onto your computers; for example, by opening an email attachment or downloading and running a file from the Internet. Trojan.Vundo is a Trojan horse.
What is a worm?
Worms are programs that replicate themselves from system to system without the use of a host file. This is in contrast to viruses, which requires the spreading of an infected host file. Although worms generally exist inside of other files, often Word or Excel documents, there is a difference between how worms and viruses use the host file. Usually the worm will release a document that already has the “worm” macro inside the document. The entire document will travel from computer to computer, so the entire document should be considered the worm W32.Mydoom.AX@mm is an example of a worm.
These are just few broad categories. There are many more specialized types. But let us not go into that.