Computer viruses are responsible for countless instances of lost and stolen data. If your computer is infected with a virus, it may capture your data while simultaneously spreading to other computers and devices on your network. Some viruses, however, are more harmful than others. There are zero-day viruses, for example, that often go undetected by antivirus software.

What Is a Zero-Day Virus?

A zero-day virus is a type of computer virus that’s not included in antivirus signature files. In other words, they aren’t known by most antivirus software products. Most antivirus software products identify viruses by looking for their signature. A signature is a unique string of code within a virus. If a virus has an unknown signature that’s not included in the signature files of antivirus software products, it’s considered a zero-day virus.

How Zero-Day Viruses Differ From Other Viruses

All types of computer viruses are capable of spreading to other computers and networks. That’s why they are known as “viruses.” Like microbial viruses, they can spread while infecting other hosts. Zero-day viruses are designed to self-replicate, thus they can spread to other computers and networks. With that said, zero-day viruses are distinguished from other viruses by the lack of a known signature.

All viruses have a signature. To protect against a given virus, antivirus software products must identify and store the virus’s signature. Zero-day virus still have a signature, but they haven’t been identified by antivirus software products. Therefore, they often remain undetected performing their malicious activities and spreading to other computers and devices.

Protecting Against Zero-Day Viruses

There are a few things you can do to protect against zero-day viruses. Using a firewall, for instance, can often prevent viruses from reaching your computer — as well as other computers and devices on your network. A firewall acts as a digital shield for your network. It will scan traffic coming into your network. If the traffic is believed to be malicious, the firewall will block it.

Even though zero-day viruses aren’t currently known by antivirus software products, you should still use antivirus software on your computer. Zero-day viruses won’t remain unknown forever. Eventually, they’ll be identified by antivirus software products, and their signatures will be added to those products’ signature files.

Updating all software on your computer can further protect it from zero-day viruses. Zero-day viruses often take advantage of weaknesses in outdated software. With regular software updates, you can plug these weaknesses so that they don’t lead to a zero-day virus.

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