In 2003, experts are saying that the ratio of virus-infected messages to other e-mail traffic increased by nearly 85 percent. If this doesn’t scare you into purchasing an anti-virus software program and keeping your operating system up-to-date, I don’t know what will.
If you haven’t protected your computer against the people with too much time on their hands who think that violence and trouble is a way to win favor in the world, we have some tips to help you get started learning about how a virus can get into your computer, prevention steps to take, and a few popular anti-virus software programs, and more information about viruses and firewalls.
Carrying our laptop and handheld computer with us as we travel, and using Internet access points wherever we can find them, either in Internet cafes or through wireless connections, and the fact that we also have one of the largest personal Websites on the web, we feel a little more exposed to potential viruses, trojans, and worms, so it is even more important to us to understand how viruses work and how to stop viruses from spoiling our travels.
Think of your computer as a room. How many doors and windows are there open to the outside? Your modem or network system connects to the outside. It allows access both from inside to out and from outside in. Through these doors email and files flow both ways. Any of these are potential virus carriers. What are some of the other ways things get into your “computer” room. Shared floppy disks, CDs, portable hard drive storage units, like MP3 players and USB mini-drives, also allow files to come and go easy through your computer’s small windows called disk drives and ports like your USB and Firewire access ports. The files on these portable units can be infected, and if your computer is infected, it can pass on viruses to other computers who share these devices. Stopping viruses from entering into or spreading from your computer means stopping them at the door.
Currently, email is the number one method of intrusion onto your computer. Through email comes spam, viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, and other nasty bugs. To put a halt on incoming email viruses and other nasties, do the following:
- Use updated and top of the line anti-virus checking software running at all times.
- If you don’t know the source of the email, delete it before opening the email.
- Use built-in spam filtering abilities within your email program.
- Invest in a good anti-spam software to keep spam out and potential viruses and spyware.
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We worry so much about what is coming in we tend to forget that what we sent out could be interpreted as spam or unwanted email, or could possibly be carrying a virus, worm, spyware and other nasties. Spam is not limited to advertising. Many people believe that anything that wastes their time is spam. Jokes, fear-mongering emails, warnings, alerts, and just junk is forwarded to people’s inboxes from “friends” daily, filling their life with endless virtual litter. Pay attention to what you send out and how much time you waste and how much of other people’s time you waste with what you send and forward from your email program. To avoid spreading the email diseases and being an email nuscience:
- Scan Outgoing Email. Make sure your anti-virus software scans outgoing emails to protect from viruses that aren’t recognized on the way in, but could be discovered on the way out of your computer.
- Check out outbox. Is everything in there what you want to send out or are there many more outgoing emails than should be? This is a hint of an email virus at work.
- Be specific in your subject titles. This tells the recipient that you have specific information and are not spamming.
- Avoid subject titles that use words like sex, naked, viagra, women, dirty, and other sexual references as many spam-blocking software packages or filters will automatically delete or refuse W32/Netsky.B-mm virus had titles like: hello, hi, information, read it immediately, something for you, unknown, and warning. These are common and vague topic titles, so try to be very specific about the information so people will recognize it came from you.
- Use a serious email address for serious emails. Using an email address like “firstname.lastname@example.org” can be a clue to the user that this could be spam or worse and they won’t accept your email.
- Do not send files or attachments to anyone you haven’t warned in advance. Even if you are sending cute pictures of your new grandchild, make sure you have told them in advance that you will be sending a file attachment and give them a day or so to answer back that they would accept it. If they aren’t used to getting file attachments or large files from you, they may delete it before reciept.
- When possible, avoid using attachments all together. If you have a document that doesn’t have to be in a perfect format, copy and paste the information into the email and don’t just attach the document. Many email programs are restricting attachments because of their ease for carrying virses.
- Keep the photographs and attached files down to a reasonable size. On average, most email users have email accounts limited to 2 megabytes. Send a file that is 500k and you have used up one-quarter of their entire inbox. If they get four such files in one day, their box is full and there is no room for more email, or the email they have saved in their account from other people. Keep email files down to under 100K if possible, 50K is better.
- Do not forward jokes, cartoons, giggles, or funnies. Do not forward warnings, alerts, or the rumor mill news articles floating around warning people to not eat, drink, sniff, touch, buy, invest, or visit this or that. If someone has been online for at least three years, they have seen it all before, even the jokes. Stop forwarding crap and litter.
- Do not forward chain letters or prayer letters or any other form of email that asks people to foward this on to other people. If you want someone to pray for someone, send them a personal note and ask them to tell others if they want, but not to foward it to everyone on their address list. I don’t care how inspirational it is, it is more junk and litter.
- Forward to those who want it. The only exception to the above is to forward jokes, cartoons and other funnies to people who you personally know would enjoy them. It’s their kind of humor. If there is something inspirational, motivational, fascinating, and informative that will directly apply to someone’s life, send it. Don’t send it to everyone just because you liked it. Make sure it is something they would agree they needed in their life and regret not getting if you told them about it later.
Incoming and Outgoing Files
- Incoming Files
- No matter where the files are coming from, be it from online, from disks or portable storage devices (disks, MP3 players, floppies), scan them with your virus checking program before moving or copying them to your computer. Make it a rule that nothing enters your computer without careful screening and checking.
- Outgoing Files
- Whether you have already run the program and checked it or not, do nor allow any files to go out of your computer to share with another computer without scanning them with a virus checking program again. This is for everyone’s safety. And check the entire disk, not just the file as there maybe hidden viruses not obviously visible as files on the disk.
Other Ways of Cleaning Up Your Act
There are many ways to help prevent viruses, spam, unwanted email, wasted bandwidth, and the spread of nuscience emails. We cover some specifics in our tips for using Outlook and Outlook Express, and here are a few more tips:
- Remove Email Addresses from Forwarded Email
- If you absolutely must forward any email, take a moment to remove all email addresses from the previous forwarding in the forwarded email. Select them and hit DELETE. By forwarding email with multiple private email addresses, you may be violating their privacy rights and exposing people to more spam and nasties. Who knows where a much forwarded joke ends up, carrying everyone’s email address with it. Delete before forwarding.
- When in Doubt, Don’t
- This seems like an easy rule to follow, but there is so much that is foreign to new computer users, they don’t know what they can trust and what they can’t. So keep a policy of checking and researching other sources of information about a file or program before you download it, be paronoid and scan it thoroughly with virus checking programs before running the program, and when in doubt, don’t. It isn’t worth the risk to your computer and your information.
As good as you may be in setting up a good offense against viruses, trojans, worms and other invaders, the best offense is a good defense – get the best anti-virus software around.
Currently, the two top sellers in the anti-virus software market are McAfee and Norton. Both are available through online downloads and payments by credit card and are easy to install and fairly simple to use.
Do keep an eye out for some up and coming changes to prevention and protection software. Currently, anti-virus software programs only go after viruses, anti-spam software only goes after email spam, and anti-spyware software only goes after spyware. But things are changing. Companies are merging and mixing things up in order to stay competitive. Keep a look out for companies offering packages which include all three protection programs.
We’ve provided some links about how viruses work, how to avoid viruses, and many of the hoaxes and myths surrounding viruses and scaring people into thinking they have a virus:
- Computer Security Resource Center – Virus Warnings
- Washington Post Article on the Cost of Spam and the techniques behind making and stopping spam
- Vicomsoft’s Spam Reference Page
- F-Secure Virus Information
- Vmyths – Valdating Virus Myths
- Network Association’s Virus Information Library
- How Stuff Works: How do viruses work on my computer
- About.com’s Antivirus Information
- CA’s Virus Information
- PC Hell – answers to nagging computer problems, viruses and hoaxes
A Firewall is a security protection layer between you and the outside world via your Internet access points. It permits acceptable access to your computer which it recognizes or you instruct it to permit, and stops most of the other criminals who want inside your computer. A firewall comes built into Windows XP and more recent versions. To turn it on:
- Click START, CONTROL PANEL, NETWORK AND INTERNET CONNECTIONS
- Choose NETWORK CONNECTIONS
- Click the Dial-up, LAN or High-Speed Internet connection to protect
- On the screen to the left, under NETWORK TASKS, click CHANGE SETTINGS OF THIS CONNECTION
- Choose the ADVANCED tab
- Under INTERNET CONNECTION FIREWALL, select ENABLE INTERNET CONNECTION FIREWALL
There are several good firewall protection software programs also available, some for free, shareware, or full-service. The two most popular are:
- Sygate Personal Firewall (review by PC World) or the Sygate company
- ZoneAlarm (review by PC World) or the ZoneAlarm company
For more information on firewalls:
- Shields Up – Test your Internet vulnerability
- Security Search online magazine articles and reviews
- Information Week’s Review of Firewalls
- Microsoft Windows XP – How to Use the Firewall Protection
- Shields Up: Understanding How Firewalls Work
- FAQ: Firewall Forensics
- Webopedia’s Definition of Firewall and links and resources
- Home PC Firewall Guide
- Microsoft Windows Media Player and Firewall Protection