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Sick About Viruses

Preventative medicine to avoid the next bug

By Sean Scott

As if you don’t have enough to do in your daily life, the Internet has created new hobbyists that think creating viruses in their spare time to help take our minds off our already busy schedules is cool. We don’t think so. We would like to share some tips and guidelines to help keep you on track with your business and not fighting fires with the most recent virus-of-the-week challenge.

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  • We all probably got a chance to see who has been maintaining their Anti-Virus updates recently with the advent of the w32.Sircam.worm. Although you may have caught wind of the Sircam worm, did you know that there were another 35 published new viruses released in July of 2001 alone, according to SARC (Symantec Anti-Virus Research Center)? While only the w32.Sircam.worm was bequeathed with the High Risk or level 4 status, the others could wreak havoc on your system and cause undue hardship if they are allowed to run their mission. The w32.Sircam.worm certainly wasn’t as disastrous as the LoveLetter virus from June of 2000, which did a great job of messing up all sorts of files. The Sircam worm was mainly an inconsiderate and unwelcome guest that used your address book in your e-mail program to propagate itself to all your friends, family and business contacts. It is embarrassing and time consuming, but not disastrous. Don’t get me wrong. An hour or two for you or someone who does your tech support to fix the infection is still not a welcome addition to an already busy day. For removal instructions and all the details about what the Sircam worm does, go to:

    What do you do to protect yourself?
    First and always, make backups of your data, i.e. your letters, e-mail, spreadsheets, database files. It is usually good practice to have five different time-dated backups. So if you make a backup once a week, you should have five weeks back of your data. Just in case you have a bad backup, or you discover you have had a virus infection for a week and you can’t disinfect the virus, you can resort back to another prior week. Backups are always important if your hard drive fails, and remember, they will eventually fail. MTBF, a hard drive rating, stands for Mean Time Before Failure and comes with every hard drive. Your hard drive will fail. That’s a promise from the manufacturer!

    - continued below -

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    So how do you prevent a virus from attacking your computer next time?
    First, make sure you are running an Anti-Virus program such as Norton Anti-Virus, McAfee VirusScan or some other reliable Anti-Virus program. Second, once you have them on your computer, make sure that they are configured to run their auto-update feature on a bi-weekly basis for them to perform their job properly. These built-in schedulers setup the program to check for updated virus signatures and keep the Anti-Virus program doing its job completely. Also make sure that the Anti-Virus software is running a full disk scan once a week. This line of defense, once properly implemented, will provide you with a good perimeter defense of your computer.

    Another good idea is to make a small change to Windows. This isn’t necessary, but I would recommend it because it won’t hurt anything and will give you a better ability to see what you are receiving from others. By default, Windows 98 through Windows 2000 Professional added a little feature that hides the extension, .txt, .exe, .doc, from the end of the filename that you view on your computer. That can cause problems as it did with the loveletter virus, which came in the form of loveletter.txt.vbs. So since windows was hiding the final extension of .vbs, which means it is a Visual Basic Script, you saw the file called loveletter.txt, which by all rights should be a safe file to open. Well guess what, it wasn’t because it was actually the Visual Basic Script that installed the virus. To change the feature that hides your file extensions, follow the steps below: On a Windows 98 operating system, open Windows Explorer. Click on View at the top and click on Folder Options. Then click on the “View” tab at the top of the box that pops up. Scroll down and uncheck the box that states: “Hide extensions for known file types”. Click on the apply button in the bottom right of the box. Then click on “Like Current Folder” button on the top of the box you are looking at and then click on “Yes” that will pop up next. Then click on the OK at the bottom of the box and you are all set. If you’re using Windows 2000 Professional everything is the same except after you open Windows Explorer, you select Tools and then Folder Options then follow the rest of the instructions above.

    The second line of defense involves preventative education for you and anyone who is using the computers in your business or home. If you receive an attachment from anyone, make sure you know why he or she sent it to you. In the example of the loveletter and with Sircam, the attachments usually came from somebody you already knew. If your Anti-Virus didn’t catch it because the virus was too new and then you opened the attachment, you were in for a one to two hour diversion to fix your computer. So if you don’t know why someone sent you an attachment, e-mail the sender back and ask. Here an ounce of prevention could save you a lot of time and embarrassment.

    If you use the suggestions above as common practice you will greatly reduce your likelihood of infecting your computer with a nasty virus. Remember that you have to run the attachment in order for your computer to become infected. Simply opening your e-mail box won’t do it. Following all these suggestions won’t guarantee you to not get some virus in the future, but you can at least move that worry further down your list of concerns and focus on getting the work you need to get done. And that is what it is all about.

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