You have probably heard stories about viruses damaging computers. A virus is a computer program, written by a mischievous or malevolent person, which automatically copies itself from one computer to another. Some viruses do nothing, but some are destructive. They can even completely wipe your hard disk clean. If you haven't taken copies (or 'back-ups') of all your files, then you can lose everything on your computer that makes it work. This is extremely bad news! Other viruses can take over your computer to infect other computers, or steal information from your computer, even steal money from your bank account.
The internet can spread viruses. This sounds terrifying, but don't worry too much. If you own a computer, buy and install anti-virus software. New viruses appear all the time, so you need the most recent version of this software. New updates will be downloaded regularly from the internet, but after a year, you will probably have to pay for the next year's updates. If you don't, then you're not protected! You should also install a firewall, which is more software that protects your computer from nasties from the internet. For more information, see virus protection websites. Public computers should already have up-to-date virus protection on them.
There is a greater risk of viruses when you download software from the internet. Many programs are reputable and can be downloaded safely, but think carefully about the risk of a download, particularly things like games. Do you trust this website?
Another way that viruses get spread is through email, as attachments. An email attachment is a picture, music, speech or software which is connected to the main email. If you get an email with an attachment from someone you don't know, or if the email claims to be from someone you know but somehow doesn't seem right, then do not open the attachment. Check with the sender first. If you don't know them then delete the email. Some emails are very plausible. Don't believe an email claiming to come from well known companies, or any bank, or PayPal, or a friend that doesn't give his name, or a reference to an invoice for a transaction you don't know about, which ask you to open an attachment or click on a link. Well-known viruses have done this.
If you are using public Wi-Fi, then make sure that it's reputable and don't use it to send sensitive information (such as bank logon details). Some criminals set up bogus Wi-Fi looking like proper Wi-Fi to gather such information, or snoop other people's Wi-Fi.
Some emails are not viruses but can still be harmful. They are spam sent by criminals to try to defraud you. Read about spam to make sure that you don't get caught!
In summary - to reduce risks from computer viruses:
~ Install anti-virus and firewall software on your own computer.
~ Download updated anti-virus software regularly.
~ Think before you download anything from the internet.
~ Don't open an email attachment unless you know what it is.
~ If an email asks you to give your bank details, don't!
~ If an email asks you to take any action, even clicking on a link, and you don't trust it, then don't!
~ Beware of virus hoaxes.
~ Be careful of public Wi-Fi.
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