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Computer Viruses Are Deadly

Computer viruses are deadly. If you access the internet, share files or your computer with others, or load anything from diskettes, CDs, or DVDs onto your computer, you are vulnerable to viruses.

Fortunately, there are good guys working just as hard as the hackers to develop cures for viruses as quickly as they send them off into cyberspace. And there are many things you can do to keep your computer from catching viruses in the first place.

Defining Viruses:

A virus is a small computer program that can copy and spread itself from one computer to another, with or without the help of the user. However, viruses typically do more than just be fruitful and multiply, which is bad enough in itself because it hogs system resources. Anything else viruses are programmed to do, from displaying annoying messages to destroying files, is called their payload. Often, they cannot deliver their payload until an unsuspecting user does something to make the virus execute its programmed function. This could be as simple as clicking on an innocent looking file attachment with the .exe (executable) extension.

Catching a Virus:

Most viruses are spread through e-mail attachments because it's the easiest way to do it. Although Macintosh, Unix, and Linux systems can catch viruses, hackers are particularly keen on exploiting the security weaknesses in anything Microsoft, particularly Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. Solution 1: Anti-virus Software

Your first line of defense is to install anti-virus software. To be extra safe, also install firewall software, which is now included in some anti-virus packages. This software can scan all of your drives for viruses and neutralize them. Here are some features to consider when evaluating anti-virus software.

- Compatibility with your operating system - Make sure the software works with your system, particularly if you are using an older operating system like Windows 98.

- Firewall software - If it's not included, find out if it's available. If you must, buy it from another vendor.

- Automatic, frequent updates - Because new viruses appear every day, you'll want regular updates. It's even better if they occur automatically when you connect to the internet. If automatic updating isn't included, you'll have to check the vendor's website and download updates yourself. This is vitally important, because you will not be protected from new viruses if your software is out of date.

- Disaster recovery - Software with a recovery utility to help you get your system back to normal after a virus attack is always good to have.

- ICSA certification - The International Computer Security Association has standards for the detection rates of anti-virus software. Make sure your software has the ICSA certification.

- Technical support - It's a good idea to select a package that offers free technical support, either online or through a toll-free number. If you're ever felled by a virus, you may need it. Some anti-virus software vendors are Symantec Corporation (Norton Antivirus), McAfee Corporation (McAfee VirusScan), Trend Micro Inc. (PC-cillin), and Zone Labs Inc. (Zone Alarm Suite).

Solution 2: The Virus Scan

If you receive a particularly juicy attachment that you're dying to open, save it on your Windows desktop and run your anti-virus software on it first. To do this, click once gently on the file on your desktop ... don't actually open it ... then right click and choose Scan with (Name of Anti-Virus Software) to activate a virus scan.

If it's infected, your anti-virus software may neutralize it, or at least tell you the attachment is too dangerous to open. Solution 3: Delete first, ask questions later.

You can spread a virus just by having people in your address book, even if you don't actually e-mail them anything. Because of the proliferation of porn on the internet, e-mail viruses often tempt victims by using sexual filenames, such as nudes.exe. Solution 4: Beware of virus hoaxes

E-mails warning you about viruses are almost always hoaxes. The proliferation of e-mails about virus hoaxes can become nearly as bad as a real virus. If you ever want to verify a virus warning, your anti-virus vendor may have a list of hoaxes on it website. Solution 5: Beware of filename extensions

Windows now defaults to hiding filename extensions, but it isn't a good idea. Just being able to see a suspicious extension and deleting the file before opening it can save you from a virus infection.

To see filename extensions in all your directory listings, on the Windows XP desktop, click Start button | Control Panels | Folder Options | View Tab. Clear the check box for Hide extensions of known file types. Click Apply | OK. System files will still be hidden, but you'll be able to see extensions for all the files you need to be concerned with. Viruses often live on files with these extensions - .vbs, .shs, .pif, .Ink - and they are almost never legitimately used for attachments.

Solution 6: Disable the .shs extension

One dangerous extension you can easily disable is .shs. Windows won't recognize it and will alert you before attempting to open an .shs file. The extension is usually just used for "scrap object" files created in Word and Excell when you highlight text and drag it to the desktop for pasting into other documents. Under Registered file types, scroll down and highlight the SHS extension. Click Delete | Yes | Apply | OK.

Solution 7: Dealing with double extensions

When you turn on your extensions in Windows, you'll be able to detect viruses that piggy-back themselves onto innocent looking files with a double extension, such as happybirthday.doc.exe. NEVER trust a file with a double extension - it goes against Nature.

Solution 8: Beware of unknown .exe files

A virus is a program that must be executed to do its dirty work, so it may have an .exe extension. Unfortunately, this is the same extension used by legitimate program files. So, don't panic if you find files named Word.exe or Excel.exe on your system - they're your Microsoft software. Just don't EVER open any file with an .exe extension if you don't know what the file's purpose is.

Solution 9: Watch out for icons

Viruses in attachment files have been known to assume the shape of familiar looking icons of text or picture files, like the wolf in the hen house. If you receive an unexpected attachment, don't open it without first running it through your anti-virus software.

Solution 10: Don't download from public newsgroups

What better place for a hacker to lurk and stick his virus than in the middle of a crowd? Sooner or later, someone's bound to download it and get the virus going. Don't download files and programs from newsgroups or bulletin boards, or open attachments sent from strangers in chat rooms ("Let's exchange pictures!") without first scanning with your anti-virus software.

Solution 11: Avoid bootleg software

Resist it! Likewise, be careful about accepting application software from others. Solution 12: Protect macros in MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

A common type of virus uses macros. Macros are sets of stored commands that users can save as shortcuts to perform long functions in just a few keystrokes. A macro virus may perform such mischief as changing file types from text files or spreadsheets into templates, locking up keyboards, and deleting files. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint come with macro virus protection. On the Security Level tab, make sure Medium or High is selected. If you are already infected with a macro virus, you may find that the steps of this procedure are unavailable because the virus has disabled them. In that event, run a virus scan on your system to see if your anti-virus software can kill the virus.

Solution 13: Use passwords

If you share your computer, it's a good idea to assign everyone a password. Passwords should be a combination of letters and numbers no less than eight characters long, and preferably nonsensical. Never write passwords and stick them anywhere near the computer. To assign passwords in Windows XP, click the Start button | Control Panel | User Accounts. Follow the prompts to assign/change passwords.

Solution 14: Update application software

Microsoft constantly issues patches for the security holes in its operating system and applications software. however, don't be lulled into complacency if you have Windows Update automatically checking things for you. Update checks for patches to repair bugs in the operating system, not for security problems.

To get the latest security hot fixes (as Microsoft calls them), visit www.microsoft.com and look for hot fixes for all your Microsoft software, particularly Outlook and Outlook Express.

Microsoft also has a free downloadable package called Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) that scans your system for missing hot fixes. It doesn't support Windows 95, 98, or ME.

Last Words:

- Back up your files regularly - If a virus crashes your system, you'll feel much better if you've got backup copies of all your important files. Make the backup copies on a media that's separate from the computer, such as on diskettes, CDs, or zip disks. Scan them for viruses before you put them away to make sure they aren't infected. If they are, they'll do you no good if you ever have to use them because they will just transmit the virus right back onto your computer.

- Make a boot disk - Create an emergency boot diskette before you have a problem so you can start your computer after a serious security problem To make a boot diskette with Windows XP, put a blank floppy disk in the drive. Open My Computer, then right click the floppy drive. Click Format. Under Format options, click Create an MS-DOS startup disk. Click Start. Keep the disk in a safe place. - Turn off you computer - DSL and cable connections that are "always on" may be convenient, but you should always turn off your computer when it?s not in use. You are free to reprint this article in its entirety as long as the clickable URLs remain in the "Resource Box" section.

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