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Do I have a virus, and how do I know?

Almost anything odd a computer may do can (and has been) blamed on a computer "virus," especially if no other explanation can readily be found. In most cases, when an anti-virus program is then run, no virus is found. A computer virus can cause unusual screen displays, or messages - but most don't do that. A virus may slow the operation of the computer - but many times that doesn't happen. Even longer disk activity, or strange hardware behaviour can be caused by legitimate software, harmless "prank" programs, or by hardware faults. A virus may cause a drive to be accessed unexpectedly (and the drive light to go on) - but legitimate programs can do that also. One usually reliable indicator of a virus infection is a change in the length of executable (*.com/*.exe) files, a change in their content, or a change in their file date/time in the Directory listing. But some viruses don't infect files, and some of those which do can avoid showing changes they've made to files, especially if they're active in RAM. Another common indication of a virus infection is a change to interrupt vectors or the reassignment of system resources. Unaccounted use of memory or a reduction in the amount normally shown for the system may be significant. In short, observing "something funny" and blaming it on a computer virus is less productive than scanning regularly for potential viruses, and not scanning, because "everything is running OK" is equally inadvisable.

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