How to protect your computer against viruses
You can protect yourself against most real computer virus outbreaks by following the steps below. If you do these you will be well protected against the latest computer viruses.
The two easiest, and most important things you can do are:
- Make sure you have the latest antivirus software, and have it set to update automatically daily.
- Never click on any unsolicited (unasked for) attachments in your email, even if you are prompted to do so.
Some of the following instructions are a bit technical if you are new to computing. If you at least follow the above two steps, that will give you at least 95% protection against these pests.
About virus warnings: Email messages warning you about viruses or telling you how to protect yourself against them now sometimes actually contain viruses Such warnings are false or they are hoaxes 99.9% of the time. (Except, of course, the ones I send you J). If you click on the attachment in the warning message to "protect yourself" against the "terrible new virus that no one knows about", bang! You're computer is infected. So don't fall for fake virus warnings, and don't open unsolicited (unasked for), email attachments!
The latest trick that is starting to be used by hackers is to break into unsuspecting, unprotected websites and infect the website with program code that will infect whoever visits that site. If you are prompted to download anything answer NO or CANCEL. If you are keeping your antivirus software up to date, it is extremely unlikely that you will be affected.
The same rules apply to instant messaging or "chat" software. Don't open or click on any files or attachments you receive unsolicited (not asked for).
If you do nothing else, do at least these two things (I'm repeating myself, but these steps bear repeating!):
- Install the latest antivirus program (I use Norton AV) and keep it updated daily.
- Don't click on unsolicited email attachments, even if you are prompted to do so.
(Answer NO or CANCEL if you are prompted to download or open anything you did not intend to download)
The most prolific Windows PC viruses spreading around the Net at this time have been assigned names as follows: (W32)Nimda, Sircam, Hybris, Funlove, Magistr, and Loveletter, and Vote-wtc.exe.
The following steps will protect you against all infected email attachments and most other virus sources. (Most of you are not on corporate computer networks. If you are on a network, the "don't open attachments" rule won't protect you in all cases.)
Steps for complete protection:
- Have the latest antivirus program installed, and check for updates daily. I recommend Norton AntiVirus which comes included in Norton SystemWorks. You can actually set this up to automatically self-update as often as you want, preferably daily. Be sure your antivirus program is automatically starting up with Windows. Antivirus programs are not perfect, but if you keep them up to date they can catch and disable 95% of any viruses that try to infect your computer.
- Install the latest version of Internet Explorer, at least through version 5.5, the latest IE Service Pack 2 (IE 5.x only), AND all the latest Windows 9x or NT/2000 security updates. IF YOU DON'T DO THIS STEP, YOUR ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE WILL STILL TRAP ANY OF THE NEWEST VIRUSES AS OF TODAY, INCLUDING THE NIMDA VIRUS, IF YOU HAVE UPDATED YOUR SOFTWARE AS OF TODAY. That will not protect you against the next one, until your antivirus company catches up with a new update. (Note: If you are using IE 5.01, as opposed to 5.5 or 6.x, you can safely continue using it if you install the latest service packs (1 & 2) and patches.)
You can use Windows Update from your Start Menu to update Internet Explorer. Run Windows Update to get a list of what you need to install under "Critical Updates" and "Recommended Updates" (Do NOT install "DirectX 8.0 Upgrade" unless you know that you need it.) Contact me if you are having trouble running Windows Update for the first time.
You need these updates to protect yourself from the latest virus outbreaks, especially the recently released (9/18) Nimda worm virus. The Nimda (Admin backwards) virus takes advantage of all known vulnerabilities (whichever it finds) in all versions of unupdated Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer, and Outlook. Please install the latest Internet Explorer service packs and patches, and Windows security updates!
- Disable previewing in whatever email program you use. (AOL users who only use AOL's mail program don't have previewing capability.) This is NOT absolutely necessary, so far, if you have the latest service packs and patches installed for Internet Explorer. Many virus infected attachments will infect your computer merely by being "previewed" when you click on the message header if you don't have the latest Internet Explorer updates and patches or the latest antivirus updates. If you use Internet Explorer / Outlook Express, you should run Windows Update to install the latest IE service packs and patches.
To disable previewing in IE Outlook Express, click View | Layout, and uncheck "Show preview pane" If, however, you prefer to keep the previewing capability, you will need to install the latest IE service packs and patches through Windows Update, AND be sure to keep your antivirus software up to date.
- Don't assume you can tell a virus-infected email by the subject heading. Many viruses continually change the subject line to keep you from identifying it. But you rarely have to worry about opening an infected email message. It's almost always the attachment within the message that contains the virus. It's when you click on the attachment that your computer becomes infected, if your antivirus software has not been updated sufficiently. There are other ways hackers can get viruses onto your computer, but they are by far the exception.
- Don't click on any attachments within email messages, even from people you know, unless you know what it is and you are expecting it. Many virus programs, once they infect a computer, use the victim's address book, and send themselves to each email address it finds there. Thus virus infected email messages will often come from someone you know!
It's usually when you click on an infected attachment that the virus runs and infects your computer. You can always leave questionable email or attachments unopened in your inbox and send an email to the person it came from to ask them if they intended to send it. (Answer NO or CANCEL if you are prompted to download or open anything you did not intend to download)
- Delete any messages you decide not to keep and make sure your Trash folder is set in your email program to be cleared regularly. If you are suspicious of any message, you can zap it into oblivion instead of into the Trash folder by highlighting the message and holding your <Shift> key down when you delete the message. If you have already deleted a suspicious message the normal way, you can go to your Trash folder and delete it from there.
- If you want to be super protected, download and install ZoneAlarm for free from Zone Labs. You must also keep your antivirus software running and up to date. This type of program is called a firewall, and keeps prying hackers and robot programs from breaking into your system via the Internet. If you have an "always on" connection (DSL, cable modem, or satellite), I would highly recommend calling your Internet service provider to see if they have good "firewall" protection that keeps you isolated from prying hackers and robot programs. If there is any question, download and install ZoneAlarm. You will need to do a little bit of set up and configuration to get the best use of this software.
See also ZDNet (Seven Steps to) Virus Removal and Prevention.
Copyright © 2004 KroyTech Computer Services