By Matt Koble, June 10, 2010

When it comes to computers there is no shortage of security threats. Between viruses, spyware and other forms of malware (malicious software) making sure your computer and personal information are secure is of the utmost importance. Without proper protection from these threats your computer and any personal or sensitive information on it are under constant threat.

What are Viruses?

Computer viruses are named such due to their similarities to biological viruses. Computer viruses are malicious programming designed to replicate and spread. Though their purposes differ from virus to virus they commonly modify, delete or even steal data from your computer. They can also allow hackers access and control your PC over the Internet. Most viruses are designed to be covert, at least until they execute their main function, meaning without antivirus protection you may not even know when your computer is infected.

Growing Number of Threats

According to Symantec, creators of Norton Antivirus, the number of new cybercrime threats in 2007 was 624,267. By 2008 the number of new cyberthreats discovered that year was more than double 2007's new threat rate with over 1,600,000 new threats discovered. Considering that the figure was 20,547 new threats in 2002, it's clear to see that the number of threats, which are largely viral threats, is growing at an alarming rate.

The Culprits

According to the United States FBI, viral threats can come from many places. While the FBI says many are simply created by computer geeks wanting bragging rights, but even organized crime syndicates and terrorists take advantage of viruses. The problem is so serious that the FBI considers viruses and other computer threats a matter of national security. The FBI has even created a cyber division equipped with specially trained employees capable of dealing with such problems.

Identity Theft

One of the most troubling scenarios that can occur as a result of a computer virus infection is identity theft. As some viruses are designed to retrieve information from your computer, hackers use these viruses to steal personal information such as your name, address and credit card information. The problem is so prevalent that claims that there is even a black market where hackers can sell your personal information. Identity theft can take years to fully recover from, and it can potentially tarnish your bank account and credit score, making it one of the most serious computer threats in existence.

Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is a program that scans the files on your computer looking for and destroying any viruses it finds. Antivirus programs have virus definition lists where they keep track of all the viruses they know of. When something on your computer either matches something on their virus definition list or is performing in a way that your antivirus program deems suspicious it will inform you of the problem and let you delete it. Antivirus programs require regular updates to ensure that the virus definition list your software has is up-to-date. There are also many free antivirus programs available so there's absolutely no excuse to leave yourself exposed.