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Having a Computer Virus Is Like Having an STD

By Kristin Gambill and Christy Crews

Originally Posted

STDs and Viruses According to Web MD, a person who has been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) should inform all sex partners and advise them to be "tested and treated to prevent reinfection and further spread of the disease." If your computer has been exposed to one of the nasty computer viruses or worms prevalent on the Internet today, the recommended treatment is no different. Having a computer virus sucks. It makes you feel like an Internet hoyden with no more sense to use protection than a cheap hooker. It's no fluke that the recommended prevention and wellness techniques recommended by the health community are no different than those recommended by the technology industry. As it turns out, there are way too many similarities between email viruses and STDs. Are You At Risk? Just as there are certain factors that make you a leading candidate to contract an STD, so there are things about your computer and how you use it that put you at higher risk for a computer virus or worm.

  • The Village Bicycle If you -- or your partner -- are the village bicycle (you know, everyone's had a ride), you are definitely at a higher risk to score an STD. In computer terms, shocking though it may be, if you use Windows operating systems, Outlook mail clients, or Microsoft Office suite applications, consider yourself a high risk for contracting a computer virus. This is because:

    • Viruses work best across a common platform (like Windows) or program (like Outlook). Just think of the "bicycle" as a common platform, making it easier for diseases to spread.

    • To do the most damage possible, virus creators will direct their attack to the most commonly used applications and operating systems. Because of the widespread use of Microsoft products, most viruses today are written in the macro language for Microsoft Word, which is currently a version of Visual Basic.

    • If you use a Macintosh, don't rest on your laurels. There are a number of viruses built specifically to attack Macs. Also, many viruses that infect Microsoft Word will also infect the Mac version of Word.

  • Junkies that Share Anyone, whether an adamant non-user or addict, should know that sharing needles is a great way to spread disease, especially the STD AIDS. In cyberspace, sharing can be just as hazardous. You know all those great jokes you get from your buddy/barmate/school chum/AA sponsor/cousin? Are they the first things you open in your inbox, regardless of whether the punch line is contained in an attachment or in the body of the text? If you regularly open email attachments willy-nilly, regardless of who sent it to you and the file extension, you are officially an attachment junkie. If you aren't cautious about what you open, you could open a whole can of worm that neither you nor your email buddies are ready for. One of the biggest computer virus risks today is people sending infected emails from their unprotected home computers to friends.

  • Are you a Sucker? Gullibility is an enormous contributor to both STDs and computer viruses. Ever heard this: "Oh, honey, we don't need a condom; I'd never do anything to hurt you"? Yeah, this one is used daily by schmucks, and believed daily by hayseeds, who later become infected hayseeds. Wrap yourself in a protective shield of skepticism, both in your sex life and your cyber life. Don't immediately believe and follow the directions of all virus warnings sent to you, whether they're sent anonymously or by a friend. Just like some people get kicks out of developing and spreading viruses online, some people get their rocks off spreading virus rumors online. Some virus hoaxes can even cause greater problems than the actual viruses themselves, as thousands of people frantically delete files and flood the Internet with emailed warnings to their friends and correspondents. If you unthinkingly do this, you've become part of the scheme to propagate the hoax "virus." If you receive a questionable warning, check its validity out at Urban Legends Reference Pages before sending it on to anyone or deleting files or trying to scan your own machine for it.

  • Protect yourself. Protection is vital against both STDs and viruses. Frighteningly enough, according to computer security firm McAfee, only one-third of home Internet users have and use up-to-date anti-virus programs. Don't be stupid. Use these tips to protect yourself.

    • Make sure you have the latest anti-virus program on your computer. Once it's on there, make sure that you keep it updated and use it religiously to scan all incoming and outgoing email messages -- including virus warnings.

    • Check and see if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) runs an advanced, anti-virus scanning program (an anti-virus gateway) to catch viruses before they even reach your inbox. Randy Leiker, owner of Skyway Networks, uses an anti-virus gateway. "This, used in conjunction with our clients' local anti-virus software, makes their computers that much safer," Randy says.

    • Take a hint. Use McAfee VirusScan or Norton AntiVirus on your machine during the day and a Trojan on your tool at night, and you won't go wrong.

Symptoms Now that you know how to tell if you're at-risk, you need to know how to tell if you're infected or not. To perform a self-diagnosis on your PC, answer the short quiz below. If Your Answer Is "Yes" to Any of These Questions, Get Checked!

  • Do computer programs suddenly take longer to load?

  • Does the amount of space on your hard drive being used for simple tasks seem excessive, or recently much more than normal?

  • Are you receiving unusual error messages?

  • Do disk drive access lights come on when no disk activity should occur?

  • Does your computer have less memory available?

  • Are files on your computer mysteriously disappearing?

  • Do you seem to have less disk space than normal?

  • Have your files changed with respect to size, date, or content?

  • Do unexpected messages or characters (like a smiley face) appear on the screen?

Remember, unlike most physical viruses, there are no universal symptoms for a computer virus. However, a "yes" answer to questions on our quiz indicates that your machine is "acting funky" (technical term) and should be looked at by a professional, and not one from the red-light district. Now that you know whether you're at risk and showing symptoms, next week we'll discuss treatment and prevention.

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