Staying Safe from Computer Viruses

by WOHe

I sleep with my television remote control. I know it sounds like
an odd thing to be confessing in this column, but it’s true. Some
people need caffeine to jumpstart their mornings. Not me. My
morning fix of news gets me going. While we’re on the subject, I
also fall asleep with the television on. I confess: I’m a news
junkie.

Now that I’ve shared this mundane personal fact with you, you’re
probably wondering what it has to do with this “Internet
Connections” column. As I go through my morning routine and Katie,
Matt, Al and Ann do their thing in the background, I make serious
note of any “virus alerts” they report during the morning news.
These alerts have to do with health the health of my computer and
our network of computers at our Kitchens.com offices.’

Viruses are serious business, and they could end up costing you
a whole lot of money and many wasted man hours. The following
information may end up saving you many headaches.

In this Internet age, viruses are normally sent to your computer
via e-mail in the form of an attachment. An attachment is an
additional document sent with an e-mail that you must open in order
to see the additional information. Often, you can read the body of
an e-mail without a problem; it’s when you open the attachment that
your computer becomes infected.

Computer viruses spread for social and technological reasons.
From a “social” standpoint, May’s “I LOVE YOU” virus spread because
the first people to receive it were intrigued by its title and just
had to find out who their secret admirer was. Once the virus is
open, the “technological” part takes over, wreaking havoc on your
computer system and spreading to others.

The ironic thing about viruses is that they are often forwarded
to you from friends, family and co-workers (not on purpose, of
course). If someone you’ve sent an e-mail to in the past opens an
infected e-mail, often the virus is then forwarded to the e-mail
addresses contained in their address book or in-box.

Scary, isn’t it? Now, let’s arm ourselves to avoid e-mails
containing viruses.

Identifying the bug
Viruses come in a variety of forms. A Trojan horse is one of those
types and, just like the original Trojan horse, this virus pretends
that it’s something else such as a screen saver or a joke program.
People perpetuate the virus by sending it out to friends because
they think it’s funny or cool. Once upon a time, a relatively
“harmless” virus called Happy99 was sent around. When opened, it
displayed fireworks on your screen while it infected your computer
system and then forwarded itself to your friends and
colleagues.

Is there a simple way to decipher which e-mail is infected and
which one isn’t? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Don’t let this
discourage you, however.’

In general, viruses spread through attachment files. If you
receive an e-mail attachment with a file type that ends with an
extension such as .exe, .vbs, .cmd, .ink, .bat, .com or any other
you don’t recognize, DON’T open it! There is virtually no reason
why someone would ever send you a file of this type. It may be a
funny little program, but it could also be a virus. There’s just no
way to know. Sorry about that.

Halting the spread
Educating yourself and others in your company (especially if your
computers are connected by a network) is the best way to avoid
viruses. If you know what type of e-mails to stay away from, then
the chance of infecting your computer or your company’s network is
greatly lessened.

Returning to my TV viewing habits, when a virus alert is
reported, I immediately call the office. I leave a message for the
first person to arrive in the morning, and he places a note on
everyone’s chair alerting them of the virus. Communication is key
when it comes to avoiding viruses, which is why their presence
always makes the news. At your next company meeting, take a few
minutes to discuss how to avoid infected e-mails.

Another good defense is to install anti-virus software from top
companies such as Network Associates and Symantec (or, you can
search for other anti-virus software on the Web). Don’t let these
programs give you a false sense of security, however. They often
can’t stop newly released viruses, and in order to be truly
effective, they require constant updating (usually about once a
week). The recent “I LOVE YOU” virus was a brand new virus, and it
spread across the world in two hours. Because it was a new virus,
the anti-virus software didn’t know how to stop it. Therefore, even
if you had religiously updated your anti-virus software, it still
could have infected your computer.

Sometimes, you may open an e-mail with a virus and you may not
even be aware of it. Not to scare you, but you could easily have a
virus on your computer at this moment. Some viruses cause damage by
immediately causing your computer to become unstable. Other viruses
sit fairly quietly and will cause continuous damage over time.
Still others are fairly benign, and don’t harm your system at
all.

Treating the virus
If your computer does get a virus, go to an anti-virus software Web
site, such as Norton’s at www.symantec.com. There, you can learn
how to fight the virus and what effects it will have on your
computer and/or network.

If computer problems are beyond your ability to deal with them,
make sure you have your ducks in a row in advance of any problems.
Check the Web or the Yellow Pages, or ask friends for a local
computer service provider. The sooner you rid your computer of a
virus, the better your chances are of saving your hard work.

Making sure all of your data is backed up regularly is very
important, as well. If your system is infected and files are
deleted, having backups will save your company from many hours of
file recreation.

While our government has become a lot more aggressive at
fighting computer viruses and finding the people who created them,
I, unfortunately, don’t see an end in sight. So, while we wait for
the silver lining to appear on our Internet cloud, I’m off in
search of my news fix!

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