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Mike Burridge  Mike Burridge
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Avoid computer viruses


Always run an up-to-date anti-virus program and use it's real-time protection.
Up-To-Date means that you update the program weekly to make sure the virus definition files are current. You can set up most software to check for updates automatically. Check your software and make sure the virus definitions are current at least once a week. Real-time protection means that your anti-virus program checks all incoming and outgoing files for viruses and stops the transfer of files if it finds one. If you need a good free antivirus program click here!

NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER open an e-mail attachment unless you know what it is and who sent it.

Make sure the person that is showing as the sender is the one who sent it. Many viruses will send copies of itself to everyone in the infected users address book. For example, if I had your e-mail in my address book and I opened an infected file and started the virus, it would send you a copy of the virus with me as the sender and it will probably have a subject line you would be interested in. So even if you get an e-mail from me with an attachment, don't open it until you contact me and asked if I sent it to you.

Make sure your system is set to view the entire file name of attachments.

To do that, In Windows Explorer, select Tools, Folder Options, View. In the dialog box, click the “Hide extensions for known file types” box to uncheck it. Many viruses attempt to hide their identity by adding an additional period and 3 digit extension to the file name. For example, picture.jpg.vbs may appear on your computer as picture.jpg. You think it is a picture file and you open it -- you just started a Visual Basic Script (vbs) virus. NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER open a file with the .vbs extension unless you know what it does. Normally, you are a high level user (programmer) if you need to use .vbs files.

It is always better to be safe than sorry.

There are a lot of legitimate files out there with an extension of .exe. There are also a lot of viruses out there with an extension of .exe. Is it worth taking a chance? If no, delete the e-mail and move on.

If you open an e-mail with an attachment and your computer seems to "go mad", then shut it down immediately.

By "go mad", I mean unusual hard drive activity and maybe even a slowing down of the computer. This can be an indication that the virus is sending itself to the people in your address book or damaging files on your hard drive - even formatting it.

If you contract a virus, seek help.

Go to the Symantec, McAfee, F-Secure, or other anti-virus web-sites for information on the virus and how to remove it. Be aware that some viruses have programming in them that prevents your browser from going to these sites. Also some viruses can literally destroy your computer, so you may have to use another computer for your investigation.

E-mails are the number one way of contracting a virus, but are not the only way.

You can also get a virus by downloading files from the internet, or even visiting a malicious web site. The key to survival here is "Use Caution". If you download files from the internet be sure to scan them for viruses before opening them. If you go to a known hacker site you can expect to get Viruses, Trojans, and be attacked by hackers.

The Internet is the number one way of contracting a virus (through e-mails, downloads, and malicious web sites), but is not the only way.

You can also get viruses by inserting and reading infected floppy disks and CD-Rom disks. Before you do anything else, scan these for viruses.

Don't propagate HOAX viruses.

These are not really viruses, but are fictitious e-mails that wander around the internet warning of gloom, doom, and falling skies. They usually tell the reader to "pass this on to everyone you know!" I would estimate that 95% or more of these viruses alerts are a HOAX. Don't send it to anyone unless and until you know for sure that it is legitimate. Why not? These e-mails cause several detrimental effects that may be as bad as an actual virus. First, they cause people to delete and not read what may be legitimate e-mails. One that is going around is "A Virtual Card for You!" warning. After reading this, a person may delete legitimate cards from family and friends. Second, they de-sensitize the public to the problem of viruses. After seeing so many of these, people tend to not heed them anymore. Then a real warning comes out which they ignore and they get infected by a virus. Third, they cause massive traffic to certain websites like Microsoft, Symantec, and McAfee. You can check out the legitimacy of a virus by going to Symantec and looking up the suspected virus. It will say HOAX if it is not real.

Even if you do everything right, you may still get a virus.

When a new virus comes out, it usually takes at least 24 hours before a virus definition is released for it. You may get the virus before your anti-virus system is updated. Authors of these viruses are usually people that think it is a game. Their objective is to write a virus that gets around all of your protection. If they are successful, you may contract a virus. What to do? Make sure you have backups to the extent possible. For home computers, this may mean storing critical data on floppies, USB memory devices or CD-R/CD-RW (These are relatively cheap by the way.) If you get a nasty virus, and there are some out there that will cause you to replace your computer, then backups may be the only hope you have of restoring critical and irreplaceable data.