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A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself and infect a computer. The term "virus" is also commonly but erroneously used to refer to other types of malware, including but not limited to adware and spyware programs that do not have the reproductive ability. A true virus can spread from one computer to another (in some form of executable code) when its host is taken to the target computer; for instance because a user sent it over a network or the Internet, or carried it on a removable medium such as a floppy disk, CD, DVD, or USB drive.

Viruses can increase their chances of spreading to other computers by infecting files on a network file system or a file system that is accessed by another computer.

As stated above, the term "computer virus" is sometimes used as a catch-all phrase to include all types of malware, even those that do not have the reproductive ability. Malware includes computer viruses, computer worms, Trojan horses, most rootkits, spyware, dishonest adware and other malicious and unwanted software, including true viruses. Viruses are sometimes confused with worms and Trojan horses, which are technically different. A worm can exploit security vulnerabilities to spread itself automatically to other computers through networks, while a Trojan horse is a program that appears harmless but hides malicious functions. Worms and Trojan horses, like viruses, may harm a computer system's data or performance. Some viruses and other malware have symptoms noticeable to the computer user, but many are surreptitious or simply do nothing to call attention to themselves. Some viruses do nothing beyond reproducing themselves.

In order to replicate itself, a virus must be permitted to execute code and write to memory. For this reason, many viruses attach themselves to executable files that may be part of legitimate programs. If a user attempts to launch an infected program, the virus' code may be executed simultaneously. Viruses can be divided into two types based on their behavior when they are executed. Nonresident viruses immediately search for other hosts that can be infected, infect those targets, and finally transfer control to the application program they infected. Resident viruses do not search for hosts when they are started. Instead, a resident virus loads itself into memory on execution and transfers control to the host program. The virus stays active in the background and infects new hosts when those files are accessed by other programs or the operating system itself.


Spyware is a type of malware that can be installed on computers, and which collects small pieces of information about users without their knowledge. The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user, and can be difficult to detect. Typically, spyware is secretly installed on the user's personal computer. Sometimes, however, spywares such as keyloggers are installed by the owner of a shared, corporate, or public computer on purpose in order to secretly monitor other users.

While the term spyware suggests software that secretly monitors the user's computing, the functions of spyware extend well beyond simple monitoring. Spyware programs can collect various types of personal information, such as Internet surfing habits and sites that have been visited, but can also interfere with user control of the computer in other ways, such as installing additional software and redirecting Web browser activity. Spyware is known to change computer settings, resulting in slow connection speeds, different home pages, and/or loss of Internet connection or functionality of other programs. In an attempt to increase the understanding of spyware, a more formal classification of its included software types is provided by the term privacy-invasive software.

In response to the emergence of spyware, a small industry has sprung up dealing in anti-spyware software. Running anti-spyware software has become a widely recognized element of computer security practices for computers, especially those running Microsoft Windows. A number of jurisdictions have passed anti-spyware laws, which usually target any software that is surreptitiously installed to control a user's computer.

The Windows Registry contains multiple sections where modification of key values allows software to be executed automatically when the operating system boots. Spyware can exploit this design to circumvent attempts at removal. The spyware typically will link itself from each location in the registry that allows execution. Once running, the spyware will periodically check if any of these links are removed. If so, they will be automatically restored. This ensures that the spyware will execute when the operating system is booted, even if some (or most) of the registry links are removed. number of jurisdictions have passed anti-spyware laws, which usually target any software that is surreptitiously installed to control a user's computer.