There is a war being fought, often right underneath our very noses. It is a war fought not with guns, or with bombs, but by computer viruses, worms and Trojan horses. Computer viruses have been around for a long time. They’re often hidden in your e-mail inbox, among all those offers for quick cash, a bag of diamonds, enlarging this and reducing that, even spam telling you how to get rid of spam.
A worm is a type of computer virus that generally spreads and replicates itself without relying on any actions on the part of a computer user. A Trojan horse masquerades as a benign program, sometimes one that claims to get rid of viruses, when in truth it inserts a virus into your computer.
Virus attacks haven’t attracted much notice from mainstream news media, although that has begun to change. Over the past years, several viruses of varying types, such as the “Blaster” worm virus, made national and international headlines. Law enforcement has historically had a tough time dealing with cases like these. It’s tough to track down computer hackers.
In many cases, damage to individual computer users in virus attacks is minimal. Many simply exist to propagate themselves, ordering the infected machine to spread the virus to as many other systems as the computer can find. Some merely display irritating messages on your screen, tantamount to someone getting in your face and giving you the raspberry.
Some, however, can corrupt critical files that will cripple your computer, and wipe away irreplaceable data. Also, when a virus like “Blaster” comes about, which spreads with alarming speed, it can overload servers and bring entire sections of the Internet to a halt. That’s why it is very important to learn how to avoid computer viruses.
Here’s the bottom line. If you own a computer and use the Internet, you need virus protection to avoid computer viruses. It is becoming progressively easier to become infected. Computers running Microsoft Windows-based operating systems are the big targets, partly because they use the most common operating system, and also because Windows – along with its component programs – are often the most vulnerable.
One thing is to purchase an antivirus program, such as Symantec’s Norton Antivirus or McAfee’s VirusScan, which will scan incoming e-mail and downloaded files, as well as searching your computer’s hard drives for lurking viruses. This is the first step in avoiding computer viruses, but merely buying and installing one of those programs isn’t enough. Each of those programs gives you a “subscription” to new virus definitions, which must be downloaded on a regular basis in order to avoid the newest threats.
If you use Microsoft programs such as Internet Explorer and the e-mail program Outlook or Outlook Express, you need to keep on top of Microsoft’s security updates, which have become more and more frequent. Point your Web browser to windowsupdate.microsoft.com, but be warned. If it’s been a while since you bought your computer or updated your version of Windows, you’ll have a lot of data to download. If you have a dial-up modem connection to the Internet, leave it running overnight.
Apple Macintosh computers don’t present as tempting a target to hackers and virus writers because they represent only a fraction of operating computers, which works in Mac users’ favor, since there are comparatively few computer viruses that are written to attack Macintoshes.
Also, a good rule of thumb to follow is that if you receive a file you don’t recognize, delete it immediately. Treat it as you would a ticking package – don’t even think of opening it. Even so, getting an antivirus program should be a priority for anyone who uses the Internet.