Are All Viruses Harmful?

Viruses just might be Public Enemy Number One when it comes to technology. At best, they’re an inconvenience. At worst, they can destroy your devices, your data and even your bank account.

Everyone knows that viruses are bad — that’s why we spend billions of dollars on computer security every year. But what about good viruses? Is there such a thing — or will there ever be? Let’s take a look.

What is a virus?

A virus is a piece of code that is capable of self-replication. Viruses attach themselves to computer programs, which allow the viruses to make copies of themselves and travel within and between devices.

Most viruses are designed to negatively affect your devices — they can slow down your network, steal your information and even destroy your gadgets. And they’re not cheap — it’s estimated that cybercrime costs the U.S. around $100 billion every year.

Are there “good” viruses?

It’s true that most viruses are programmed to do damage. But viruses aren’t inherently bad — after all, they’re just pieces of code. Can those pieces of code be programmed to do something good?

According to some, yes. Researchers have created proposals for several “good” viruses:

  • An anti-virus virus that could find and then remove other harmful viruses.
  • A file-compressing virus that could “infect” and then compress the files it attaches to.
  • An encrypting virus that could protect files with strong encryption algorithms.
  • A maintenance virus that could self-replicate to perform device maintenance tasks.

However, these “good” viruses have proven complicated to create. They’re not particularly necessary — programs already exist to do most of what good viruses might accomplish. There are also concerns about privacy, copyright and possible misuse. Viruses, good or bad, are hard to control.

For now, the consensus in the tech world is that computer viruses are bad. Will that remain true in the future? We’ll have to wait and see.