Internet Viruses: Where Do They Come From?

Here’s where internet viruses come from:

Ultimately, internet viruses are made by people.

They can be made by any talented programmer or a group investing in viruses.

They usually come from internet sources, like downloads and installations available on your devices.

Ultimately, there are a lot of ways to get a virus, and they come from many places.

So if you want to learn all about computer viruses and how they come into existence, then this article is for you.

Let’s get right into it!

Internet Viruses: Where Do They Come From? (All the Info)

What Is an Internet Virus?

Let’s start at a logical point. 

What is a virus?

An internet virus (more often called a computer virus) is a type of malicious software.

It’s something that is designed to spread from one computer to another.

So, if one computer is “infected” with the virus, it can potentially “infect” other computers that communicate with it.

In this way, a single virus can spread far and wide across the internet.

This aspect of virus behavior is where it gets the name.

In the same way, an actual virus can spread from one person to another and across the world, a computer virus can, by design, reach a very high number of computers if the conditions are right.

If the virus is difficult to detect (which usually means it has a small impact on the user experience) and easy to spread, the overall damage can be massive.

Aside from spreading, computer viruses do a lot of different, specific things.

Typically, the goal is nefarious in some way.

A virus can be used to take over a computer, just plain mess up a computer, steal data, hide data, change what the user sees, disable security measures, and a whole lot more. 

Really, the point of a virus is to change how the computer behaves.

And to spread.

That’s an important part of the equation.

Technical vs Informal Definitions

Everything above is built on the formal definition of a computer virus, and the ability to spread is essential to that definition.

That means that a computer virus, as far as tech experts are concerned, is a specific classification of computer software.

Yet, most people tend to use this term to define any and all malicious software (or malware).

So, adware technically isn’t a virus.

Adware usually can’t spread on its own.

Instead, you have to take direct action to install it (like clicking on a shady download).

Adware won’t usually spread from one of your computers to another computer simply by being on the same network.

It’s not a virus, but colloquially, a lot of people will call adware a virus.

Key loggers, tracking software, and plenty of other malware types aren’t really viruses, but we might call them one anyway.

I took the time to explain what a virus really is because it’s important to the question.

That said, I’m assuming that at least some of you are here to learn about malware in general.

I get that, and for the rest of this conversation, I’m going to be less formal on that front.

Moving forward, I’ll be using the terms “virus” and “malware” interchangeably, even if it isn’t technically correct.

Where Do Internet Viruses Come From? (5 Answers)

Now we can get into it.

Where do viruses come from?

Since viruses are all software, they have to be programmed.

That means that they come from people.

More specifically, they are made by people who code them.

That doesn’t mean that all viruses are made by master programmers, but if you’ve never written a line of code in your life, you haven’t made a computer virus.

Still, saying that viruses come from people is pretty generic.

It’s technology.

Of course, it comes from people.

Who is making viruses?

And why?

These are more interesting questions, and they have several viable answers.

#1 Governments

Let’s skip the political talk.

Everyone has something to say about their government (and probably other governments too), but that’s not really what I’m trying to get into here.

The real point is that governments try to keep track of a lot of things.

As a result, governments invest money into the development of software that can help in these endeavors.

Whether the governments are trying to spy on each other, track how many people are researching how to build a pipe bomb on Google, or doing anything else (legal or not), governments invest in the development of viruses for a lot of reasons.

If we all wracked our brains, we might even come up with justifiable reasons to make a virus and good ways to use it.

We can probably all also imagine cases where a government doesn’t act with entirely benevolent intentions.

I’m not here to really stoke a political debate.

But, if I’m going to honestly and completely answer the questions, the government is one of the real answers.

#2 Companies

I swear this isn’t a manifesto.

I just blamed viruses on governments, and now here I am going after companies.

But like I already said, if I’m being honest and accurate, then companies have to be mentioned too.

I’m not here to call anyone out by name because, again, that’s not the goal here.

I will say this, though.

Tech companies very clearly try to keep track of what people do on the internet.

That’s not a secret, and you have undoubtedly experienced how this works.

Surely you have looked up something on the internet and then saw ads for similar things on social media.

That’s pretty much par for the course.

Well, that kind of “coincidence” is only possible if your activity is tracked, logged, and shared.

And obviously, that would be too much work for an individual to be manually figuring out what ads to send your way.

It’s automated, and that means that software is involved.

Here’s the point.

Let’s assume that no company has ever directly engaged in making a computer virus.

Even so, companies very clearly have invested heavily in software that automates tracking, logging, and sharing data.

It’s not too hard to imagine someone using such software for nefarious purposes.

So at a minimum, companies have built software that enabled viral behavior at some point.

#3 Hobbyists

Not everything comes from governments and big companies.

When it comes to manufacturing viruses, plenty of it is tied to people who just like programming and making computer tools.

We’re talking about anonymous individuals who have made viruses.

It’s hard to pin down motivations.

Maybe they did it to better understand how viruses work.

Maybe they wanted a challenge.

Maybe they were curious about what happened, or maybe they just wanted to stir up some trouble.

The idea here is that people have made viruses without a grand agenda.

Sometimes, it’s more about the code and the virus than how it all gets used later.

#4 Hackers

Now we’re graduating from hobbyists to hackers.

These are not strict definitions, so take it all with a grain of salt.

But, the difference between a hobbyist and a hacker for the purposes of this conversation is intent.

A hobbyist is playing around with stuff.

A hacker has an agenda.

As you might have suspected all along, malicious hackers do create viruses.

The specific purpose of the virus will vary, as will the specific motivation.

But in general, this is about using viruses for a purpose.

The most common reasons are to make money or hurt people (or organizations).

A really good example is the infamous hacking group known as Anonymous.

As the name suggests, no one is sure exactly who is involved with this organization.

What is known is that they have taken credit for some large-scale hacking operations over the years, and they have admitted to developing viruses (or at least stealing them).

It’s not clear if Anonymous has an overarching goal, but in individual hacks/attacks, they have often stated a purpose.

They have messed with government resources after a government behaves in a way they find disagreeable.

As an example, Anonymous took credit for a big attack on the Prime Minister of Australia’s website after he announced a heavy internet censorship plan.

Anonymous hardly represents all hackers and their motivations.

I’m really just trying to give some concrete examples that can help you get into the mind of a hacker and how and why they do things.

Ultimately, it’s up to the person making the virus.

What I can say is that plenty of people will make malicious software as a means to an end.

#5 Nefarious Organizations

Lastly, we come to the idea of nefarious organizations.

What’s the difference between a hacker and a nefarious organization?

Again, I’m using loose examples to highlight motivations and behaviors.

For the sake of simplicity, a nefarious organization is a group of people who use viruses specifically to cause harm.

In the previous section, the group, Anonymous, that I mentioned might also count as a nefarious organization.

There are also underground organizations that I can’t name that deal in the business of viruses.

On the internet, there’s a big demand for some of the things that viruses can do.

Stolen information, ad spamming, device hijacking, and who knows what else can all be used to make money.

Stolen information can lead to a stolen identity where people literally steal money from you.

Ads can potentially generate revenue.

Ransomware is where a virus encrypts your data and holds it ransom until you pay the attacker a cash sum. 

There are a lot of ways this kind of stuff is monetized.

And since there’s money in it, you can bet that there are groups paying talented programmers to make the viruses needed to carry out these nefarious operations.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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