The Psychology of a Computer Virus

“How did I get a virus on my computer? Shouldn’t my antivirus software have stopped that?”

Antivirus software is not a guarantee against getting viruses. It can’t stop user error, or bad browsing habits. We have a simple saying at Network Depot when it comes to viruses: “The best defense against a virus is an educated user.”

We have a number of blog posts that explain how viruses can get on your computer, including “Is It Possible To Keep My Computer Virus-Free?”, “Here’s a Quick Way to Get Rid of a Virus”, and “When Don’t I Need to Worry About a Virus?”

We also have an entire e-book that you can download for free that explains how to be a safer and smarter internet user to help prevent viruses: “Surf Smart: How To Protect Yourself From Common Computer Infections on the Web.”

To really be smarter about your browsing habits though, it is important to understand how hackers trick you in the first place. Hackers exploit three human psychological weaknesses to deploy viruses, adware, and malware. These are: Greed, Curiosity, and Fear.


The hackers exploit your greed by offering something for free that normally costs money. These items will come packaged with viruses that infect your computer after you download them.

Some examples are:

  • Free hacked versions of paid software like Photoshop and Microsoft Office.
  • Free screensavers, toolbars, widgets, and wallpaper.
  • Free apps for mobile devices.
  • Free ringtones for mobile phones.
  • Free movies.
  • Free music.
  • Free antivirus and “make my computer faster” software.


Hackers exploit your curiosity and the need to taste that forbidden fruit.

Some examples are:

  • Email chains that are often forwarded from friends.
  • Links in emails to cool videos, pictures, and sites.
  • Text messages with “check this out” links.
  • “You have come into money” email scams.
  • Pornography.


The hackers exploit your fear that something bad has happened, tempting you to click where you shouldn’t, or give access to private information.

Some examples are:

  • “Your bank account or credit card has been hacked” emails.
  • “Change your password” emails.
  • Fake “your computer is infected” popups.
  • Fake virus scan results popups.
  • Fake emails from friends in trouble.
  • Spoof phone calls from Microsoft, or your bank, asking for information or giving instructions to download something.

If it seems fishy or too good to be true, it probably is. Our general rule of thumb is to never download free versions of paid software, give out private information when solicited by email or phone, and to be cautious of links contained in emails. If you follow these rules and understand the methods being used to bait you, your chances of getting a virus will decrease significantly.

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