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Computer program designed to copy itself into other programs, with the intention of causing mischief or damage. A virus will usually execute when it is loaded into a computer's memory. On execution, it instructs its host program to copy the viral code into any number of other programs and files stored in the computer. The corrupted programs may continue to perform their intended functions while also executing the virus's instructions, thus further propagating it. The infection may transfer itself to other computers through storage devices, computer networks, and on-line systems. A harmless virus may simply cause a cryptic message to appear when the computer is turned on; a more damaging virus can destroy valuable data. Antivirus software may be used to detect and remove viruses from a computer, but the software must be updated frequently for protection against new viruses.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on computer virus, visit Britannica.com.
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