CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, December 25, 2000

Don't forget the virus protection

As you revel in the joy of your new computer this holiday season, do not fail to install a hearty virus protection program right away. Especially if you plan to use the Internet and bask in all the wonders it has to offer, beware that evil lurks in cyberspace and promises to sap the holiday spirit right out of your sparkling new hard drive.

People in general have become more cognizant of virus dangers in the last few years, but so too have hackers become more sophisticated in developing virus strains. Unlike bugs of old, many of today's viruses appear to come from familiar sources, like friends, relatives or co-workers. This is because they're designed to attach themselves to mail programs such as Outlook and Outlook Express. An infected mail message is unwittingly generated from you and sent to all entries in your Address Book. Assuming the mail from a known source is safe, it's then opened, unleashed and passed on like a self-propagating chain letter.

A common variety of these newer viruses are .vbs files or mini programs created with Visual Basic Script. Visual Basic Script is an Internet scripting language based on Microsoft's Visual Basic program. Similar to a macro, .vbs files are more akin to Java Script since they're used to create specialized routines that are often embedded in web pages. If used properly, these scripts can make web pages sing and dance, but in the wrong hands a .vbs file can wreak havoc with your own files.

The LoveLetter virus, for example, is a .vbs strain which has many mutant varieties still circulating the Internet, even though they were first identified and cataloged last spring. This worm originates from a familiar source with a variety of subject lines such as "I Love You", "Joke", "Very Funny", or "I can't believe this". One scary version actually masqueraded as official correspondence from Symantec, a trusted leader in virus protection.

Once opened, the virus "worms" its way through your hard drive, infecting sound, graphic and often critical system files, rendering them useless. In some cases, it's an inconvenience and in others it's fatal. It's also a nasty bug to purge from your system even with the help of anti-virus weapons.

To protect your system against virus attacks, it's not enough to simply install anti-virus software. You must update your virus definitions regularly to insure you're inoculated against the latest strains. Norton and McAfee both produce reliable programs, however I find Norton easier to keep current thanks to its LiveUpdate feature. This can be scheduled to run automatically as often as necessary

Another step you can take to protect your PC specifically against .vbs attacks is to disable the Windows Scripting Host on your system. CHOOSE: Start | Settings | Control Panel | Add/Remove Programs | Windows Setup | Accessories | Details. Uncheck the option for Windows Scripting Host. Unless you are running specialized programs, disabling this option should have no adverse effects. Also, patches are available at the Microsoft website to repair some Outlook security vulnerabilities.

Above all, be cautious about everything you open, regardless of the sender. After all, viruses can disguise themselves as your best friend. I'm sure I've missed out on some great jokes or hilarious pictures of late, but it's just not worth the risk. Any unsolicited attachments that require a double-click to open land in the trash bin without exception.

For excellent information on viruses as well as hoaxes, visit Consumer Incident Advisory Capability , Norton AntiVirus or McAfee

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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