We all know that malware can steal your passwords, cause you to lose money, and spread itself to other PCs. But can malware actually cause damage to your PC?
The short answer is yes.
A botnet is a collection of infected PCs under a hacker’s control. There are millions of PCs today forming these botnets (millions of infected home computers being controlled by hackers). Some new research on botnets shows that they sometimes include code to completely disable the PC.
In April 2009 a malicious hacker decided to “kill” the PCs he was controlling using a botnet. It disabled Windows on 100,000 computers, making all those PCs useless until a technician can repair it. (This is a slight simplification but for the general public it’s accurate enough). These 100,000 computers belonged to real people using their computers at home or at the office. One day it just stopped working because a malicious hacker thought it’d be fun. You can read more detailed information about this here.
And then there are other malware (viruses etc) that can damage the PC in more serious ways. In March 2009 researches created a sample malware that writes itself to the computer’s BIOS (the BIOS is inside a chip inside the PC) . Reformatting the PC won’t remove it, buying a new hard drive won’t remove it either, and they claim that even a “BIOS flash” won’t remove it. You’d have to buy a new PC (or if you’re technical, a new motherboard) to fix it. More info here.
In the past there have been viruses that could damage drives and monitors but there’s been very little of this lately.
So overall malware can cause your PC to visit a repair shop for servicing, which is not only an inconvenience but also costly. It’s always better to prevent malware than to repair the damage (and often you may not know a PC is infected). And the usual tips apply here:
- Use a good anti-virus package, the kind that updates itself several times a day and scans web pages as well as files. They’re not expensive.
- Always patch and update your programs, including your operating system (Windows, Linux, Mac OS X).
- Never assume it can’t happen to you or that your computer is somehow better than others.
- Use one of the newer browsers such as FireFox, Chrome, or Opera. Read about browser hacking here.
- Don’t download programs from hacker sites such as password generators (they’re usually infected with malware).
- Don’t be tricked into installing something to watch a funny video. If your computer can’t play the video as it is then it’s probably not worth watching. Read more about it here.
- Don’t be tricked by fake anti-virus programs. Examples here.
- And backup your files. Do this often.