Computer Viruses - Learn To Keep Your Computer Safe
Posted by Peter O'Brien on: 2006-08-28 23:55:02
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A virus is computer code that somehow finds its way into your computer without your knowledge. It interacts with your computer's operating system and memory and does troublseome things in your computer, often without your knowledge. Most people don't even know they have been infected by a virus until, all of a sudden, their computer slows down to a crawl or doesn't work at all. This happens when the virus is using all the available memory that used to be used to run your programs. Severe viruses can destroy hard drives, ruin software programs, delete important files, steal your identity and cost the victim a great deal of money and time. Some viruses can, all by themselves, move throughout networks and sneak by security systems. Viruses are very bad and need to be kept out of your computer.
It seems the first virus appeared when the Internet was just beginning and only used by the Department of Defense and several universities. Since then they have become much more sophisticated and even more dangerous. All viruses are made by human beings and, sadly, there are lots of bad guys out there that make them either for profit (as a way to attach itself to programs into your computer and then copy every keystroke you make, including your credit card information) or because they are sick puppies with way too much time on their hands.
Almost all viruses are attached to a program, executable file. These files end in extensions like .exe and .com. This means that the virus is harmless until that specific program is opened or started. Then the mayhem begins. This is why it is very dangerous to open an e-mail attachment unless you know exactly who sent it AND what is in the attachment.
What about worms and Trojan horses? A worm is a type of virus that can duplicate itself and use up lots of your computer's memory. However, a worm can't attach itself to another program. It just raises general havoc within the memory. Like a good wine, it also travels well. Worms take advantage of file transfer features in your operating system to easily move from computer to computer. E-mail files are a great example of this ability. A worm is not attached to a program file like a virus, but has the ability to continually replicate itself. For example, it can attach itself to every name in your e-mail address book and send itself, in an e-mail, to all your contacts. Then the same thing happens to them and on, and on and on. They consume so much system memory and network bandwidth (the size of your Inter or Intranet pipeline) that they can bring web servers, network servers and individual work stations to their knees. Worms used to be just for slowing down networks and computers. Now, more sophisticated versions tunnel into computers and allow the bad guys to remotely control your computer.
Readers of Homer's Odyssey know the Trojan Horse appeared to be a gift from the people of Troy to the citizens of Athens. Instead, soldiers were hidden inside the giant wooden horse and at night they slipped out and easily conquered the sleeping Greek city. A computer Trojan horse works the same way. It appears to be a legitimate piece of software that is good and helpful, but once it is opened mischief quickly occurs. Trojan horses used to only cause silly problems like changing desktop icons or wallpaper. Now they can destroy files and more significantly create a "back door" on your computer where bad people can enter, without your knowledge, and gain access to your personal information. Of course, this only happens when your computer is on line. However, with more and more people using broadband Internet access and always leaving their computers on, Trojan horses are becoming very common. The good news is that, by definition, Trojan horses do not replicate themselves and they don't infect other files.
Another type of virus is called an e-mail virus. That's because it arrives in your e-mail. E-mail viruses can be viruses, worms or Trojan horses, but need to be mentioned separately, because e-mail is an important part of our culture and most of us send and receive e-mail every day. E-mail viruses arrive as attachments to seemingly innocent e-mails. However the second you open the attachment, the virus in unleashed on your unsuspecting computer. To prevent this, simply follow a few basic rules.
1. Do not, under any circumstances, open an attachment unless you know who sent it AND exactly what is in that attachment. Remember, a worm can hijack any e-mail list and send infected e-mails without the sender's knowledge.
2. Anti-virus filters look for files that end in .exe and .com. These are executable programs and a dead giveaway that the attachment is a virus. The bad guys know this and often hide these files in WinZip or Stuffit programs. Be especially careful of any attachment that arrives in a .zip or .sit format. Now we know a little about these nasty critters, what can we do to make sure our computer or network doesn't get infected. Don't underestimate the people who actually code the viruses. They are very smart computer geeks and understand far more than most of us about the vulnerabilities that are built into every computer, especially those with Microsoft operating systems and Microsoft Internet Explorer. That's because since practically everyone uses Microsoft software, that's where the attackers focus their efforts. Microsoft programers are constantly working to close holes in their software and they constantly offer updates and patches to guard against the virus invasion.
Therefore, the first step is to make sure you are keeping your software current with the latest updates. They're free, and it only takes a couple of minutes. Use the automatic update feature that comes with your software and when it wants to download a patch or an update, let it. It may involve restarting your computer, but that better than a blank hard drive or letting someone steal your master card number. The automatic update program is found in your system tray on your Start Menu. That's the list of programs found under the time in your Start Menu.. There is an easy to follow wizard that gets you set up and the program automatically checks and downloads new patches and updates. You can also use programs like Big Fix, a free program that constantly checks your present computer security against updates and automatically downloads fixes and patches to keep your computer operating system security up-to-date. Big fix is not an anti-virus program. It simply keeps your Microsoft operating system current with the latest updates. You can find and download this free software at www.bigfix.com. Big Fix is recommended by Jamison Software.
Next, consider installing anti-virus software. Some of the big names you may recognize are Norton Anti-Virus and McAffee. They are just a few of the many anti-virus programs on the market. You should also consider a firewall, which is part of or an easy add-on to most antivirus programs. Firewalls are hardware devices (if you have a network with a router, a basic firewall is probably part of the router) and more commonly, software programs. A firewall's purpose is to keep your viruses, worms and Trojan horses from attacking your computer and from letting spyware files already in your computer establish an Internet connection with a site that can do damage to your computer or record your on-line activities. This is done through a series of filters that identify and block the bad files. If the firewall is part of a hardware component, like a router, it usually can't be changed or updated. Software firewalls can be constantly updated as new viruses are discovered.
The anti-virus software works behind the firewall. It scans your computer for viruses and, more importantly, fixes problems caused by the virus. They place the virus in a quarantine folder so it can't do any more damage. The programs also heal any legitimate files infected by the virus by stripping the bad code away from the good file. They do this in two ways. First, they compare files in your computer to the anti-virus dictionary that is part of the program and downloaded to your computer. They also look for suspicious behavior from any program that is running on your computer. For example, is a program, suddenly, trying to make an on-line connection. Anti-virus programs also provide automatic updates so the latest threats can be added to your computer. That is why most programs are sold on a subscription basis.
One problem with anti-virus programs is that they tend to use a lot of computer memory. Believe it or not, programs like Norton and McAffee actually have up to 15 programs running in the background (you don't know they are running on your computer, but they are) while you are working on your computer. If you don't have enough memory, these programs can slow your computer down just like real viruses. That's why you need to make sure you have enough memory in your computer before you install anti-virus software. While most programs recommend 128 KB (kilobytes) of RAM (random access memory) installed on your computer, we recommend you install at least 256 (kilobytes) of RAM (random access memory). Memory isn't that expensive and is easy to install. It's better than staring at a "slower than molasses" computer. Jamison Software recommends AVG Anti-Virus System as the best anti-virus program we have used. We run AVG Anti-Virus System from Grisoft, Ltd. on our computer and are totally satisfied for the following reasons:
1. AVG only runs 3 programs in the background which means your computer will simply run faster. We run high memory usage programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver and Flash on our computers and quickly found there was no difference in performance after AVG was installed.
2. Their customer service department reacts quickly to identify and update the directory when new viruses are discovered. To test their response, we ran a computer on-line, without a firewall for three months. During that period, two viruses, that were not found in the AVG directory attacked our computer. Within hours updates adding these viruses to the directory were added to the automatic downloads and the viruses were purged from our test computer. If you are in the market for a great anti-virus program, we strongly recommend the AVG Anti-Virus System with Firewall. You can purchase the program or get a free 30 day trial at www.jamisonsoftware.com.
To learn more about AVG and other software please go to =>http://www.jamisonsoftware.com
Peter O'Brien is a Vice President for Jamison Software. A division of The Jamison Group, Inc.
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