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Having a Computer Virus is Like Having an STD - Part Two: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

By Kristin Gambill and Christy Crews

Originally Posted

Roughly 300 new computer viruses are reported each month. That means that at least 75 new viruses have blindsided unsuspecting computer users around the world since our last article was published. Did you catch one, or did you forget all about us and not even notice you were infected? If you didn't listen to the bar babes and didn't notice your infection, please, stop giving your number out at the bar, because you don't deserve a date! Then, if you can manage to pay attention this week, we'll help you rid your system of unwanted bugs and teach you how to compute safely. Prevention If you're not infected with anything, stay that way! Always Use Protection

  • You should never, ever plug in to the Internet without the sheath of an anti-virus program protecting you. Two of the most common programs are Norton Antivirus and McAfee VirusScan, although there are other products on the market as well. Check out Tucows for downloadable freeware, shareware, demos, and commercial products, as well as reviews of different offerings. Whatever anti-virus protection you choose, the bottom line is make sure you put one on your piece and use it every time you compute.

  • To remain disease-free, you should update your anti-virus software at least once a month. You should also download any additional updates recommended by your anti-virus manufacturer -- this includes security patches for any holes in your system. The Symantec site has a continually updated list of virus threats, software security advisories, virus definitions, and removal tools available on the Security Response page. It's also important to watch Microsoft's security bulletins. They warn of frequent new security loopholes and issues with Microsoft's software. After all, as we explained last week, Microsoft products are the village bicycle!

  • Protect all computers you use; be sure to protect your home computer with the same vigilance you do your work computer.

Common Sense

  • Avoid floppies, if possible, and that's not just sound advice for the bedroom. Floppy disks are wonderful little hiding places for pesky worms and bugs, so it's best to steer clear of them. Never boot your computer from a floppy without first scanning it, and, unlike the other type, don't leave it in your disk drive any longer than necessary.

  • Just as you wouldn't call a strange guy's number sight-unseen, do not download executables or documents from the Internet without first scanning them. These are a favorite way to spread computer viruses. If you haven't verified with the sender, don't open files whose names end in .exe, .vbs, .bat, .com, .scr, or .pif.

  • Watch out for Trojan horses! Although .jpg, .gif, and .mp3 files cannot currently be infected with a virus, viruses can easily be disguised as these types of files. Jokes, pictures, graphics, screensavers, and movie files should be treated with as much suspicion as any other attachment file type.

  • Use rich text format instead of .doc files. Microsoft Word .doc files are more likely to harbor viruses than rich text. You can automatically save all of your Word documents as rich text format (RTF) by selecting Tools/Options/Save and choosing RTF as the default format from the drop-down menu.

Ask Before Entering

  • Scan any new files before allowing them hard drive penetration. Do not open, run, download, or forward any documents, spreadsheets, programs, email messages, or attachments without first scanning them for viruses and determining that they are "clean." Make sure you know where this stuff's been!

  • Be suspicious of any email that you weren't expecting, even if it comes from someone you know. If there is an unexpected, suspicious-looking attachment, it may even be worth phoning the person who sent the file to confirm its authenticity. And sometimes the attachments look "real," so if the file is executable -- .exe, .vbs, .bat, .com, .scr, or .pif -- call anyway.

  • While we don't want to know your preferences on doubling up in the bedroom, double file extensions are a definite no-no. Never, under any circumstances, should you open a file with a double file extension (like marketingbabes.doc.vbs).

Know Where They've Been

  • If someone else has been using your hard drive, floppy, or attachments, be sure to rescan your computer before you use it again. You want to make sure your co-worker or partner doesn't have bad computer hygiene and hasn't left something unsavory waiting on your computer.

  • If you work at home or have a home computer, be sure you follow the same strict procedures that you would at work. Home computers are very easy targets for viruses and can easily infect other computers.

Treatment As with STDs, the most important thing about computer viruses is to contain the problem as quickly as possible to stop its spread. If you suspect that your computer may be infected, stop mid-act and disinfect by running an anti-virus program. If the software program locates an infected file, simply delete it. As with a prescription of penicillin, be sure to keep using the anti-virus software even after your computer begins to feel better. The bottom line is this: Don't let your guard down! Just like you have to keep an eye out for sleazeballs at the bar, so you have to constantly be on the alert for viruses or worms infecting your machine. Anti-virus software is an essential ally in the war on computer viruses, but it is not sure-fire guarantee. You need to stay alert for symptoms that your system is infected. Jeff Gassaway, Systems Administrator at the University of New Mexico, says: "People need to be actively engaged in keeping their computers and data safe. No product alone will blindly and reliably do it for you. As soon as you think there is one, you will be the next one up against the wall." A little rough, yes, but hey, we like it that way.

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