Tuesday, Nov 05 2013 06:00 AM

TechWire: Why are computer viruses created?

As a computer repair specialist, customers often ask me a familiar question, "Why are there viruses?"

Much like an automobile, we use our computers for a variety of different reasons. Whether it is to pay bills, keep in-touch with family or simply browse the Internet, the use of our computers is something we take for granted. When we are hit with "malware," we often want to know what the overall goal of hackers is to create viruses and spyware.

There is, however, no single answer to this question. But rather, there are several reasons that motivate hackers to create and distribute viruses and spyware.

One reason could simply be for personal gain. By infecting your computer, smartphone, tablet or other device, a hacker could potentially "watch" you while gathering all of your personal information. This could include bank records, social security numbers and other personal data. After acquiring this very damaging material, a hacker could easily sell your identity to someone else for a large sum of money. This is just one way that "identity theft", one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, is taking place.

Another reason for distributing viruses and spyware is something we hear on almost a daily basis: Terrorism. Cybercrime plays into the war on terror much more than we might realize, and often times, our computers are all an integral part of it. By a hacker infecting your computer, your computer may easily become one of tens of thousands of infected computers across the globe. Once a hacker has infected a large amount of computers, they are added to what is called a "bot net," where your computer is one of possibly thousands that is used to shut down government facilities, knock websites offline and even send spam to millions of e-mail addresses. across the world.

By your computer becoming a part of this "bot net", your computer could very easily be used in blackmailing owners of websites by knocking them offline, and you may not even know it. Terrorists could "purchase" these thousands of computers from hackers and begin targeting the U.S technology infrastructure. Your computer could potentially be aiding terrorist activities, and you may never even realize it.

Another reason for distributing viruses and spyware is to target a specific individual or group of people. If a hacker, for instance, wanted to target an individual or large corporation, he/she may program a virus that is very specific to that organization or person. This is more of a targeted attack and is something that generally involves a personal vendetta or potential future blackmailing situation.

What can you do to protect yourself from becoming a victim in any of these scenarios?

1. Install and keep security software up-to-date, such as an anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall.

2. Create hard-to-guess passwords and never keep passwords written in plain sight.

3. Avoid opening and downloading attachments within e-mail messages, even if it is from someone you may know personally.

4. Keep your wireless network safe with a secure password.

5. Avoid clicking pop-ups or advertisements within Facebook, YouTube and other websites.

By keeping a few safe practices in-mind, you should be able to avoid becoming a victim of any of these dangerous scenarios. Remember: The best "anti-virus" is you.

MATTHEW SGHERZI lives in Tehachapi where he has operated an IT business since 2007 (tehachapicomputers.com).

This week we welcome columnist Matthew Sgherzi, a Tehachapi resident who has run his own on-site and remote computer and network repair business since 2007.

With degrees in Computer Information Systems and multiple certifications from top IT industries, he is currently working on his Masters degree in pursuit of a Doctorate.

Through his column, TechWire, he will share his knowledge of computers, networking and the Internet with readers, hoping to demystify the technical world and make it non-technical and easy-to-understand.

"Technology is an ever-changing world, and every day there is something new to learn," Sgherzi said.

Whether it is making sense of national news, understanding the new mobile technology or helping readers know how to simply stay safe and secure online, he will bring his years of experience and professional training to the column, to pull back the covers and shed light on the subject.

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