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You have probably heard news stories about viruses damaging computers. A virus is a computer program, written by a mischievous or malevolent person, which automatically copies itself from one computer to another. Some viruses do nothing, but some are destructive. They can completely wipe your hard disk clean. If you haven't kept the CD-ROMs of all your software, and taken copies (or 'back-ups') of all your files, then you can lose everything on your computer that makes it work. This is extremely bad news! Other viruses can take over your computer to infect other computers, or steal information from your computer, even steal money from your bank account.

The internet can spread viruses. This sounds terrifying, but don't worry too much! If you only use the internet to read webpages, then your computer is unlikely be infected by viruses. But a download of software from the internet might also bring a virus. Many programs are reputable and can be downloaded safely, but think carefully about the risk of a download, particularly a game.

The most common way that viruses get spread is through email, as attachments. An email attachment is a picture, music, speech or software which is connected to the main email. If you get an email with an attachment from someone you don't know, or if the email claims to be from someone you know but somehow doesn't seem right, then do not open the attachment. Check with the sender first, or delete the email straight away.

Be careful if an email informs you that you have a virus, and should delete a file. This may be a hoax. Don't believe an email claiming to come from Microsoft. Well-known viruses have done this.

Some emails are not viruses but can still be harmful. They are spam sent by criminals to try to defraud you. Read about spam to make sure that you don't get caught!

If you own a computer, buy and install anti-virus software. New viruses appear all the time, so regularly download the most recent version of the anti-virus software from the internet. You will be able to do this for free for a period of time (such as a year) before having to pay more money. You should also use a firewall, which is more software that protects your computer from nasties from the internet.

In summary - to reduce risks from computer viruses:

    ~   Think before you download anything from the internet.
    ~   Don't open an email attachment unless you know what it is.
    ~   If an email asks you to give your bank details, don't!
    ~   Install anti-virus and firewall software on your own computer.
    ~   Download updated anti-virus software regularly.
    ~   Beware of virus hoaxes.

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