After speaking to a few of our members, I thought it would be good to review using virus protection on your computer. Lest you think this article doesn’t concern you, let me assure you that unless your computer never uses the internet and you never bring home disks from work or friends, it does.
Computer viruses are called viruses because they are similar to biological viruses. A computer virus passes from computer to computer like a biological virus passes from person to person. There are several main types. The oldest and simplest is the Trojan Horse. It is not technically a virus but is a program that says it will do one thing but actually does something else, like erase your hard disk. Easily avoided by not downloading files from unknown websites, stick to ZDnet and places like AOL. True viruses are self-replicating. Many of the older ones are bits of code attached to an otherwise good program. When the program is run, the virus code also runs and first makes a copy of itself in one or more programs on your hard disk. These are generally spread through floppy disks used at work and then at home, or from downloading on the internet.
The most pervasive and enormously “contagious” viruses come through e-mail. So far, just opening your e-mails cannot let in a virus. The danger lies in e-mail attachments. Attachments do not open on their own, you have to double click on them. Do not open an attachment from someone you don’t know. In fact, don’t even open an attachment that purports to be from someone you do know if it is an “executable” file. Executable files include but are not limited to those with the ending com, exe, bat, vbs. Picture files, ie files ending with jpg, are safe. Microsoft Word files (ending with doc) from someone you know are safe if your copy of Word is set to not run “macros” from other people. This is the default setting, so unless you’ve changed it, you’re OK.
Also, there cases in which people receive an e-mail warning of a hoax virus. In those cases, there is no “computer virus,” rather, the harm is caused when you follow the “corrective” instructions in the e-mail. For example, at Ed’s job, an e-mail was put out near the end of the business day by someone who is known to staff as authorized to make public announcements. She is not a computer person, but she immediately forwarded to everyone on the LAN the instructions that she had received in one of these hoaxes. She instructed everyone that they should immediately check if a particular file was in their Windows directory. If it was, she passed on the warning that it was a “worm” virus, timed to destroy their hard drives the very next day. She then passed on the instructions from the hoax e-mail on how to find it, how to delete it, and how to remove it from the computer forever by then emptying the recycle bin. Ed obediently followed the instructions. The next day, his employer’s computer support section announced that it was a hoax, that the file in question is necessary to run windows properly, and that they needed to restore the file to those computers where it had been deleted. Bottom line: do not act on or pass on virus warnings unless you’ve checked its validity at a major virus site like Norton/Symantec (http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/index.html) or McAfee (http://www.mcafee.com/ ).
There are many anti-virus programs but only 2 brands widely available: Norton and McAfee. Both are well known and will protect your computer if used properly. Norton 2001 costs $39.99 while the McAfee product is $29.99. Each can be bought in local computer stores or downloaded directly from the company website.
Here’s the single most common problem. Most people do not update their virus definitions. Unless a virus protection program is constantly updated, it is useless. Thousands of new viruses are found each year. Anti-virus programs only work against the viruses in their definition base. So if you have an older version of these virus protection programs that has not been recently updated with the newest lists, it’s no good. Luckily, the newer versions make updating much easier. Each has the newest updates on their web page, which can be downloaded for free for the newer software versions. I have used McAfee and more recently Norton, and found Norton to be much easier to update. Once installed and registered, it updates automatically in the background while you are on-line, usually every 2 weeks.
Your virus program should load with Windows and a little icon for it will appear on your task bar in the lower right of the screen. If you right click on this, one of the choices is to disable the protection. Do this only when necessary, such as when installing a purchased program that tells you too. Then, do not go back on-line until you’ve re-enabled it, generally by re-booting. Double check by right clicking the icon again, to see if it says “enabled”. Now is also a good time to take a look at your program settings or configuration. Make certain you have it enabled for all types of protection: internet, mail, copying and running files etc.
While most viruses can be eventually eradicated, the damage they do can be irreparable. Get protection.
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