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Keeping Worms out of Your Hard Drive

Computer worms are yet another form of malware that can be particularly insidious and harmful. Unlike viruses, which need a host to replicate and spread, a worm is able to copy itself across a network without the need of a host. Modern worms may hide inside computer files, though.

Worms in History

There have been several well-known worms over the past decade. The first one was released through the Internet by Robert Tappan Morris in 1998, although there are some who believe his attack was possibly accidental.

In 2003 the SQL Slammer worm and the Blaster worm hit the World Wide Web, using vulnerabilities in Microsoft programs to spread themselves.

Several worms used e-mail to make their rounds around the Web, including the Melissa worm in 1999, the Sobig worms of 2003, and the Mydoom worm of 2004. These worms also shared attributes of a Trojan horse by requiring the user to open an intriguing-sounding e-mail attachment. Mydoom attempted to initiate a Denial of Service attack against Microsoft and SCO, and it attempted to spread through P2P file sharing.

How Worms Cause Harm

Many worms do not harm the programs they transit through, but even if a worm is not designed to cause harm it can damage networks by taking up bandwidth. They differ from viruses because a virus will corrupt files on victim computers.

Worms use a “payload” code to spread and potentially delete files on a user’s system, encrypt files, or send e-mail files. One common “payload” is to direct the worm to install a back door on the victim’s computer. Once the backdoor has been established, the author is able to turn the victim’s computer into a “zombie,” using it for his gain without the computer owner’s knowledge.

One popular use for zombies is in the spreading of spam. The author of the worm uses the zombie to hide the originating address. It has long been believed that spammers were heavily funding the production of worms, and some worm writers were caught selling lists of infected machines’ IP addresses.

Protecting Against Worms

A complete, anti-spyware program manufactured by a reputable company is your best line of defense against computer worms and other damaging forms of malware. Paretologic’s XoftSpySE, PC Tool's Spyware Doctor & Spy Sweeper will detect and delete all forms of harmful spyware. This highly rated anti-spyware program has received raves from users as being highly effective and extremely easy to use.
Some jokingly say not to run Microsoft software, since many of the most famous worms were designed specifically to exploit their weaknesses.

Since worms spread through vulnerabilities in computer systems, it is advisable to upload all available software updates. These patches repair any vulnerable areas in the system, making it difficult for a worm to infect the computer.

Some worms adopt Trojan horse attributes, attaching themselves to e-mails or other types of attachments. The best way to prevent infection from e-mail malware is to delete messages from unknown senders without opening them.