CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Love your PC, immunize today

Originally Published May 12, 1997

Cathi Schuler

When most of us catch a cold or virus, the sage advice of practitioners is always the same: rest and drink plenty of fluids until the bug runs its course. After a week or so of sniffles and achy body, we're back in the pink again.Unfortunately, such is not the case when your computer contracts a virus.

A computer virus is, by design, malignant and intended to kill all or part of your computer system. No amount of TLC or chicken soup is going to return your PC to a healthy state once a dreaded virus has been unleashed upon the system.

Computer viruses are actual programs written by evil hackers who delight in inflicting misery upon others. These are the same thoughtless heathen who foul our countryside with graffiti, bully the weak, toss garbage out of car windows and torture small animals.

If a PC bug is notorious and virulent enough to earn a name, such as Michaelangelo, Dark Avenger or Mad Satan, the hackers are victorious and wear this dubious distinction with honor.

Computer viruses are stealth and attach themselves to your files, remaining dormant until activated by any number of everyday events or instructions that are executed unwittingly by the user. Simply starting your PC on a certain date or executing a simple command can trigger a systemic disease, which can be immediately fatal or slow and insidious.

Viruses thrive and procreate through the sharing of programs, disks or the downloading of files from the Internet and World Wide Web. The innocent act of sharing files with a co-worker or downloading a graphic file from the Web could start the deadly process in motion.

Death and destruction struck close to home recently when neighborhood youths, eager to explore the wonders of the Web, downloaded games and graphics to a brand new Compaq Presario. After the files were read, the virus-ravaged computer refused to start again.

It was a nasty boot sector bug that masqueraded as a broken floppy drive, but in fact had destroyed critical files necessary for startup. The hard drive had to be re-formatted (erased) and all program files re-installed from scratch. Everything was lost.

Your best defense against a potential computer virus is to inoculate your system with a commercial anti-virus software package whose job it is to detect and remove viruses before they do their damage. Good anti-virus applications load automatically and are memory resident, running continually in the background, monitoring your system for viruses.

Norton products by Symantec have a long-standing reputation for good utility software and their Norton Anti-Virus 2.0 for Windows 95 is no exception. This product has successfully protected my system from infections and runs undetected in the background as it analyzes floppy disks, boot sectors, all downloads and new programs.

Since new viruses are spawned daily, it's important to install a program that offers quick and easy updates. Norton Anti-Virus offers LiveUpdate with its software that enables users with a modem to log onto their FTP site and obtain "signature files" of the latest known viruses.

Industry tests found that Norton 2.0 detected 100 percent of known and "wild" viruses, but scored only 77 percent success in the removal viruses from already infected systems. Norton was unable to heal the diseased Compaq, but if the software had been installed from the start, the damaging virus would never have penetrated the system.

VirusScan by McAfee is another popular anti-virus package that scores 93 percent on virus detection and 99 percent on removal. PC World magazine rates Dr. Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit as "the clear leader in detecting and removing just about any virus." Checkout the March '97 issue of PC World magazine for a complete review and test results of nine anti-virus software packages: http://www.pcworld.com/software/utility/ articles/mar97/1503p180.html

For a good knowledge base on viruses, visit the EliaShim Virus Center at http://www.elias
him.com/vcenter/ This site is actually marketing its own ViruSafe software, but additionally offers comprehensive information and a searchable database of known viruses: http://www.

Most good anti-virus software packages are priced under $100 and well worth the expense. Don't be lulled into the "it won't happen to me" mentality just because you don't share files or download daily. If you have any online connectivity at all, including e-mail, you're a potential target.

Love your PC, immunize today.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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