For every human invention, there's something that can make that new technology kill or do harm. Computers help us in our daily lives. But if their software is altered by hackers with malicious intentions, an average PC or smartphone can become a weapon of extortion, blackmail and in worst cases - even nuclear disaster. Find out whether computer viruses can actually "kill" hardware and learn how to avoid falling victim to Trojan horses, worms and ransomware. Learn more from our special series "Ghosts in the Machine: The History of Computer Malware."
If your computer loads up slowly or refuses to boot up, it’s likely that it was infected with a virus. But if human illnesses usually require dialing 911, for PC owners, whose systems are haunted with malware, the question “Who you gonna call?” has a different answer - “antivirus experts”.
The “stone age” of computer viruses was the era when hackers wrote malicious software mostly for fun, or in an attempt to become famous. But in the late 1980’s a new trend appeared: viruses and Trojans started to become tools for extortion and blackmail, and their authors wanted nothing but money – lots of money.
In the eyes of an average PC user the term “computer virus” usually means “software product” – something that can infect the operating system and destroy other programs. Many wonder whether a virus can actually damage hardware – motherboards, processors or memory chips. Well, yes… and no.
The inventors of the first electronic computing machines made them for a good reason. But as devices have gotten smaller and entered the mass market, they’ve also become a target for people with criminal intent. So along with the “good” programs there appeared more and more malicious software, or “malware” – “Trojan horses,” backdoors and worms.