A computer worm is also capable of crashing entire services and may consume a large amount of bandwidth as it spreads. When written to damage files and programs specifically, it is said to have a “payload.” This portion of code is typically used to delete, encrypt or exfiltrate data. The process of infection is similar to when a virus or parasite invades the human body. The only exception is that it never runs its course. Human infections may heal on their own, but computers will always need the help of antivirus (AV) software to remedy the situation.
Both computers and mobile devices are susceptible to computer worm infections. Symptoms may include hardware damage or sluggish performance, compromised or lost data, and intermittent network connectivity. In 1971, the first instance of a computer worm was written to move across the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET, a packet switching network that would later influence the Internet.
“Creeper,” as it was known, was quarantined by a program called “Reaper,” which is often considered to be the first antivirus (AV) program. But it is important to note that early viruses and worms were not like the malicious software we encounter today. The Alvi brothers, who wrote the Brain virus in 1986, did so to prevent their medical software from being pirated. The concept, however, would inspire a generation of hackers to repurpose its use and give new meaning to the phrase Virtual Information Resources Under Siege.
How a Computer Worm is Contracted
The act of using a computer or mobile device does not make you susceptible to a computer worm, as most would imagine. Neither does simply being connected to the Internet. Usually, a computer worm will infect your machine under the following conditions:
- By downloading an infected file
- By downloading and/or installing a malicious software program
- By using an infected disk, thumb drive and other removable media (these conditions are more commonly associated with computer viruses, but can still occur with computer worms)
- By opening a malicious email attachment
- By clicking or tapping on infected social media links
- By downloading nondescript apps on your smartphone
- By receiving infected text messages
Computer Worm Symptoms
In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, you can tell if your computer has been infected with a worm if you notice the following signs:
- Slower and/or inconsistent performance
- Intermittent web connectivity
- Excessive pop-ups (and pop-unders)
- Inexplicable data loss
- Shortcuts to software programs you didn’t install
- Unable to launch certain software programs
- Restricted access to certain directories and/or impaired navigation
- Frequent computer crashes
How to Prevent Computer Worm Infections
A computer worm can be prevented or eliminated by following these essential steps:
- Install a reputable anti-virus (AV) and firewall as a first line of defense
- Keep your security programs, including any adware and/or spyware protection programs, up-to-date so they can tackle the latest threats
- Pay attention to all software and operating system update notifications and apply them immediately
- Maximize the security settings in your favorite web browser(s)
- Make it a point to only visit secure websites. Stay away from domain name with long, convoluted names, and check for an active SSL certificate (the green lock icon in your browser’s address bar) before inputting personal or sensitive information
- Download software and apps from trustworthy sites, and beware the rogue applications disguised as freeware
- Never open emails from unknown, convoluted or suspicious addresses
- Delete and report spam and phishing attempts immediately
No one wants their computer or mobile device infected with a computer worm, but many do not give it serious thought until its too late. Not only are computer worms a mainstay in the digital sphere; like real life parasites and viruses, they tend to spread and even mutate into more sophisticated versions of themselves. But if you take the required steps above, you should be more than capable of protecting your hardware and data.