Updated: Aug 14, 2021
I run into this question all the time. People just can't fathom why all of these viruses exist. They can't understand why it's become such a huge issue and why they suddenly have to worry about it. Viruses have existed for almost as long as computers have, but they never appeared to be as big of a problem as they are today. I just wanted to make a small post explaining this for anyone who's asked themselves the same thing.
In the beginning...
While viruses have existed longer than the computer mouse, the first viruses were mostly made as pranks. They were the digital version of graffiti. Just something to cause other people trouble for the sake of causing trouble. It's the same kind of "thinking" that rationalizes scratching a persons name into the mirror in a public bathroom. People were learning how to code, and they wanted to code something with some bite - it's more exciting that way, right? They ranged in capability to do everything from harmless "pranks" that popped up a window saying "Click here for a free cup holder" before opening the CD tray and keeping it out no matter how many times you push it back in, to as damaging as deleting every file from a hard drive.
It's all about the money, dummy
The match that finally lit the gasoline fire of computer malware was the capability to make money. It wasn't long until some of those same "pranksters" realized that instead of just opening up a persons CD tray, they could actually create software that enabled them to make money; a lot of it. Suddenly terms like spyware and adware started popping up. Your data is worth a lot of money to certain people, and a program running in the background spying on everything you do can capture a lot of it.
One form of malware that to this day is still responsible for the majority of malware I run into is referred to as "adware". Here's how it works: Everyone knows that viruses exist and everyone knows they need antivirus software, so they install software that imitates a virus and sell you the cure. You're just using your computer, browsing the web, and suddenly a legitimate looking program pops up yelling at you about a MASSIVE INFECTION! "We've found (insert huge number here) viruses on your computer! Click here to get rid of them!" Once you click on the link, they direct you to a website offering ridiculously expensive software to cure the problem they caused. The worst offenders then take your payment information and sell that too. The smarter criminals actually make it appear as if they removed the "viruses" in the hopes you continue to re-up your subscription every month. They make billions every year from the US alone with scams like that.
How do I protect myself?
It might sound counterintuitive, but I'm not a huge fan of most antivirus software. In my opinion, some of them are basically malware themselves! Think about it. Why is malware so annoying? It slows your computer down, requires you to constantly click on pop up messages and warnings, and generally annoys you. Sadly, that's exactly how I would describe the "solutions" companies like McAfee and Norton offer. Windows 10 actually comes with a pretty potent antivirus suite built right in. Microsoft realized they were actually losing sales to Apple because people were so sick of dealing with viruses and paying for antivirus software, so they finally took the issue seriously and did something about it.
At the end of the day, the best way to defend yourself can't be found in any software, it's how you use your computer. If you're downloading MP3's and movies from Russian websites, regularly browsing the sketchiest corners of the internet, and clicking on every link that appears in your email, it doesn't matter what antivirus program you installed, you will get an infection. If you're careful about where you go online and carry out the recommended maintenance on your computer, you'll never even need the protection all of those expensive antivirus programs offer. I highly recommend our 15 point monthly maintenance program to keep your computer running safely and smoothly.