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Timberwolf Anti-Virus Information Center

-- Vendor-Independent Anti-Virus Information and Education Site --

The PC Virus Defined

By Bill Grogg

What is a computer virus?

Very simply, a virus is a computer program designed to replicate, or make copies, of itself. It is this replication that makes a program a virus. The program may or may not cause any damage, but because it is designed to spread inside your system without your permission, it should be eradicated anyway.

What is NOT a computer virus?

There are other malicious computer programs that are mislabeled viruses by many. These include programs that appear to be designed for one purpose, but actually do something quite different. These are known as "trojan horses" (or simply "trojans" from the famous "gift" horse in history). Many times trojan horses are designed to do something destructive such as delete or corrupt files or format your hard drive. Because these programs are so often confused with viruses and because they are a real threat as well, information on these can also be found on this site.

Like trojan horses, worms are another type of "malware" many times written to cause some kind of damage. Worms spread without infecting programs, so they are not technically viruses. Worms are a major threat today and will also be covered by this site.

Virus hoaxes are also relatively common. Because of the fear of damage from computer viruses, many people innocently spread information on these to vast numbers of other people, usually via e-mail, and this causes much unneeded concern and e-mail traffic. We will make an attempt to alert you of common virus hoaxes on this site and also to give you the knowledge to help you discern whether information you receive on a virus constitutes a hoax or not.

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Last updated at 1:37 PM on 20-Mar-2002.