Computer Viruses - Keep Those "Buggies" at Bay...

Buggies? Yes Buggies. We use that term to collectively refer to the infections that can harm your computer, also collectively referred to as viruses. The big three are:

• Virus - A program that can attach itself to another program (the host), and then cause damage to hardware, software, and files.
• Worm - A stand-alone self-replicating program that can invade a  computer, consume memory, and cause it to crash.
• Trojan Horse - A computer program that appears to be legitimate, but conceals an unexpected function which is usually damaging.

Following are the typical ways these infections are spread:

• File and network sharing.
• Visits to malicious web sites.
• Web based e-mail, i.e., Hotmail.
• Downloads of software from unknown or "untrusted" sites.
• E-mail attachments sent through a computers e-mail client, i.e., Outlook and Outlook Express.

In the past, if a user avoided suspect program files of unknown origin, they believed themselves "safe" from infection. This no longer is true. Virtually every program and document on the information highway must be considered potentially dangerous.

What to Know:

• Unless you have antivirus software installed on your computer, you won't really know if it has been infected. In many cases, a virus can slow your computer's processing capability or trigger other unusual behavior, but these symptoms can also be caused by a number of unrelated reasons.
• If you notice that your computer or Internet connection seems to be running without actually using it, or if your computer settings change, these are symptoms of an infection.
• Antivirus software should be considered a vital part of any organization's defense against computer viruses. Antivirus software will not only prevent many virus infections, but will help the user detect and remove viruses.

What to Do to Prepare:

• Install antivirus software on all office machines to monitor systems for suspicious virus-like behavior.
• Keep current with the latest virus definitions by regularly visiting your antivirus software vendor's web site to download them, or by running scheduled updates to your antivirus software. Only then will your software be able to recognize the latest identified threats.
• Educate all employees on antivirus software use.
• Use scanning software in conjunction with memory-resident or integrity-checking software to provide the greatest degree of protection.
• Scan all foreign CD's and diskettes before use.
• Regularly check your system to ensure that the antivirus software is resident and working properly.
• Keep your operating system current with the latest software patches.
• Keep your purchased software products current with the latest software patches.
• Learn about/how to set the security features on your computer.
• Install a firewall.

What to Do if Your Computer Gets Infected:

• Once you have identified that you have an infection, download the latest virus definitions or updates from your antivirus software vendor's web site, and follow their directions to fix or remove the virus. In most cases, if you download the latest virus definitions from your antivirus software vendor, that will take care of the problem. In some cases, you may also need to follow some additional steps to manually remove the infection from within your system. If you need further assistance, you can contact your antivirus software vendor for support in removing the virus.
• You still need to be alert since many times a Trojan Horse is spread like a virus or with a virus, but may not show symptoms for a long time, if ever.

What to Consider:

• Make sure any virus alert you receive is real and not a hoax. If you've seen, heard, or read about a virus via a reputable news media source, it is probably real. However, if you receive an e-mail from someone you know regarding a virus alert, and they ask you to pass it along, don't. This is a common ploy used by virus creators to spread the infection. Instead of just forwarding a virus alert to contacts in your address list, first confirm whether or not the virus alert is real by contacting either your local PC support team or your antivirus vendor.
• Be cautious about visiting unknown or unusual web sites. Staying on the main routes of the information highway will keep you safer.
• Don't open e-mail attachments from anyone you don't know, and be cautious of attachments from people you do know. Some viruses spread by mailing themselves to contacts in an infected computer's address book. If you have any doubts about the safety of an attachment, check with the source before opening it.

By using discretion, and keeping your antivirus software definitions current, you can guard and protect your computer system from unplanned unavailability.

"An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure!"