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What is the Real Cost of Computer Viruses? [Infographic]

Getting a virus or piece of spyware on your computer can be downright annoying. If you’re lucky, it’s easy to fix, or your software of choice catches it before it gets out of hand. If you’re not so lucky, you’re probably one of the 16 million Americans who have had a “serious” vulnerability in the last two years.

Although you already know viruses and computer worms are a bother, what you may not know is just what they cost US households and workplaces each year. Today, we’re taking a closer look at what Americans spend on virus protection and removal, and what these vulnerabilities really cost in lost money, time, and labor. We’re also looking back at the five most expensive computer vulnerabilities of all time, and the financial impact they had not just on the US, but the world as a whole.

Keep reading to check out the infographic!

The Real Cost of Computer Viruses

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The Impact of Viruses at Home

Each year, US households lose a cumulative $4.5 billion due to viruses and spyware. This cost takes into account not only the money that is spent on virus removal programs or professional computer cleanup and restoration, but also time lost to dealing with vulnerabilities, and the amount of new hardware that has to be purchased due to extreme infestations.

The average cost of a virus removal at a technology retailer like Best Buy or Staples ranges from $99 to $149, so it’s easy to see how the cost of dealing with a virus can quickly grow.

The Impact of Viruses at Work

As far as workplace security is concerned, most employers don’t joke around. US businesses spend approximately $8 billion per year on virus protection for computers and network equipment.

This averages out to more than $500 spent on each employee. Even with the best protection available, though, the cost of viruses in the workplace is staggering. Businesses spend around $55 billion dollars per year dealing with viruses, whether that means cleaning up an infected PC or paying for new security software.

The Most Expensive Computer Vulnerabilities in History

If you still aren’t convinced that viruses can really cost you, here’s a short history lesson on some of the most expensive computer vulnerabilities of all time. In our research, we actually found that only one of these costly vulnerabilities was a virus — the other four were computer worms, defined by Wikipedia as “a standalone malware computer program that replicates itself in order to spread to other computers.” Unlike viruses, which only infect your computer and remain there until removed, the goal of a worm is to use your computer as a “host” so that it can move on infect others.

Photo of the floppy disk containing the source code for the Morris Worm, one of the first of its kind
Photo of the floppy disk containing the source code for the Morris Worm, one of the first of its kind
The five most damaging worms and viruses were:

  1. 2004’s MyDoom Worm, which caused $38 billion in damages by slowing global Internet access by 10%
  2. 2008’s Sasser Worm, which brought down Delta Airlines and crashed millions of PCs to cause more than $18 billion in damages
  3. 2000’s “ILOVEYOU” Virus, which ended up shutting down the US government’s email servers (!) and causing $15 billion in damages
  4. 2008’s Conficker Worm, which gave hackers remote access to some 15 million computers, causing $9 billion dollars in damages
  5. 2003’s SQL Slammer Worm, which caused over $1 billion in damage when it took out phone and Internet service for 24 million in South Korea

Since 2008, we haven’t seen a virus, worm, or piece of spyware estimated to cause as much damage as any of these five vulnerabilities. However, new security flaws are being discovered every day, so it may only be a matter of time until we see the next MyDoom Worm or “ILOVEYOU” virus.

How to Avoid Viruses

To avoid being infected by a virus, worm, or piece of spyware, always remember these crucial tips:

  • Use virus protection — both at home and at work
  • Keep your computer updated! Those pesky Windows Updates are there for your security and safety, not just to bother you
  • Never open email attachments from unknown senders, even if you recognize the file type
  • Be wary of websites that ask you to install plugins, download files, or those offering “free” music or media
  • Trust your gut! If you think an email or website is risky, avoid it

Have you ever been hit by a particularly troublesome or expensive computer virus? What did it take to get rid of it? Or were you impacted by any of the five most expensive vulnerabilities in our infographic?

Feel free to share your story in the comments below! Photo credit: Go Card USA (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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