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Preventing computer viruses

In last weeks column we started our look at computer viruses. This week, we continue by looking at prevention techniques. The old adage of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure is especially true when it comes to computer virus prevention. Keeping these undesirable programs out of the computer is incredibly important and, to be successful, it involves awareness in two areas of concern. The first area is one of personal carefulness where what you know and what you do go a long way toward virus-free computing. The other area is the use of defense mechanisms, some of which are free while others come with a cost. Both areas are proactive in nature, which means rolling up the sleeves and getting started before problems arise. Lets break the two areas of concern into four topics and discuss each one separately. The topics are knowledge, common sense, protection and maintenance. As we discuss each topic please consider that the approach of the sum being greater than the individual parts will achieve better results for most users while skipping one or two can lead to detrimental results. Knowledge about viruses is a genuine starting point for everyone. Go to wikipedia.org, search for computer viruses and read through the information posted. After that, visit support.microsoft.com and search for kb889739. The kb means Knowledge Base while the 889739 is the knowledge base article number. The article contains information about virus protection as it relates to Windows XP and the article also discusses computer security as a whole. Reading through the articles to beef up your knowledge has a second benefit of helping to develop sensible practices, which brings us to the topic of common sense. Heres rule number one: think twice before clicking. If you are not certain that the site you intend to visit is safe - do not visit the site. About 99.9 percent of the Web sites people go to are safe. Its that other tenth of a percent we have to be careful about. It is somewhat rare to get a virus just by visiting a site but it is not rare to visit a site and become enticed into clicking on something while there. Thats when trouble occurs. So how do we know which sites are the bad ones? The answer is: we dont. But the reason we surf the Web is directly related to our chances of hitting a bad site. Many of us shop on-line and visit common Web sites such as Google or Yahoo I think those are perfectly safe Web sites. But bored Internet surfers content to click on nearly any link that looks interesting will eventually hit bad ones. In fact, PC World magazine, quoting a McAfee study, places the eventuality at one dangerous site every eight days ... Read more at www.pcworld.com/article/id,141702/article.html. Common sense rule number two: never open e-mail attachments unless you know who its from and you are expecting it. Why? Some viruses simply need help in getting into a system. They could appear as innocent email attachments in disguise while masking their true identity as an executable file. Executable files end in .exe and all they usually need is a double-click of the mouse to be activated. All of this is assisted by the default behavior of Windows hiding known file extension. Lets shift into defense mechanisms. Companies that specialize in anti-virus software are increasingly offering free, for personal use only, anti-virus software. One such program comes from a company called Avira who makes available their AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic in a few versions. The program is easy to download, install and it updates itself automatically. It will generate one pop-up each time it updates itself, which is a relatively small price to pay. Visit www.free-av.com for more info. Symantec offers an all-in-one suite called Norton Internet Security. The latest version is the 2008 suite. For about $70, users can install and use the product on up to three computers. It was rated a Best Buy recently by PC World magazine due its ability to find 91 percent of 674,589 dormant malware samples. That was the highest of all the products tested. When it comes to maintenance we have a few areas to take care of. The first is a common theme of mine keep your system up to date. Allow the Windows update service to perform the chore automatically. Do not let the virus writers take of advantage of the window of opportunity I mentioned in last weeks column. The second area is to keep the defense mechanism up to date. Most have the ability to do it automatically, we just have to allow it to happen. The last maintenance area I recommend is the regular scanning of a system. It never hurts to perform a full system scan at least once a week. Remember to exercise caution when surfing the Web or opening email and spend some quality time with your anti-virus product. Next week, we wrap up the virus series with information on how to deal with an infected system. Thanks again for reading and have a safe, productive week.

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