A computer virus is a type of malicious software program (“malware”) that, when executed, replicates itself by modifying other computer programs and inserting its own code. When this replication succeeds, the affected areas are then said to be “infected”.

Computer viruses often perform some type of harmful activity on infected hosts, such as stealing hard disk space or CPU time, accessing private information, corrupting data, displaying political or humorous messages on the user’s screen, spamming their contacts, or logging their keystrokes. However, not all viruses carry a destructive payload or attempt to hide themselves—the defining characteristic of viruses is that they are self-replicating computer programs which install themselves without the user’s consent.

Viruses can infect desktop computers and network servers alike. Some viruses are programmed to damage the computer by damaging programs, deleting files, or reformatting the hard disk. Others are not designed to do any damage, but simply replicate themselves and perhaps make their presence known by presenting text, video, or audio messages. Even these benign viruses can create problems for the systems and the networks that they infect.

To help protect your computer against viruses, it’s important to keep your software and operating system up-to-date, install a reputable security suite, be cautious when clicking on links or downloading files, and avoid visiting suspicious websites. Many software and applications offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should enable it.