Computer Viruses: A Global Threat
Computer viruses and worms have become a very serious threat to the
global economy. Each year viruses cost individuals, corporations
and governments billions of dollars in lost time and productivity.
Quite frequently they can swamp e-mail and web servers with a flood
of useless infected messages. They can destroy good data stored
on the infected computer by deleting files or even by reformatting your
The "MyDoom" virus was classified
as the fastest virus outbreak in history (as of this writing). Some experts estimate
as many as 1 in 3 e-mails have been infected. Many viruses such
as “MyDoom” require an e-mail recipient to open a file attachment by
enticing them with something that would get the users attention such
as: “Final notice”, “your have just won”, a free game, or even the promise
of a pornographic picture. When an unsuspecting user clicks on
the attachment to view it, the computer then becomes infected.
Many viruses then go straight for the mail-readers address book and
proceed to send itself out to everyone on the list. In that way
the virus can spread and grow exponentially and overwhelm e-mail servers
with billions of infected emails in a very short period of time.
Many viruses can also send out personal information to their creators
aiding in identity theft!
According to Symantec there are 2.5 million uniquely
identified computer viruses. Corporations such as Microsoft are
now offering monetary rewards for information leading to the virus creators.
Unfortunately, the number of actual people caught and prosecuted for
creating a virus can probably be counted on your fingers.
A computer virus is extremely hard to trace back to its original source
which makes it extremely difficult to determine the culprit. If
a person is actually found; prosecution is even less likely to happen.
A few laws do exist in the United States to prosecute virus creators,
and system crackers. However, a lack of international laws against
virus creators constitutes a major problem for law enforcement.
A person in a third world country can quite easily unleash a virus in
the USA and never be prosecuted because laws simply do not exist in
the other country. All a person would have to do is create and
e-mail the new virus to one or more people in the USA from a non-extradition
country. It is that easy.
Antivirus software is essential for ALL computers. All users
will be hit by a virus at some point in time. It is not
a question of “if”, but a question of “when” it will happen. The
two top software packages on the market are McAfee VirusScan (http://www.McAfee.com)
and Norton Antivirus (http://www.Symantec.com).
Either package will be highly effective. However a user
must keep in mind that any brand of antivirus software is only as good
as its last update. I recommend updating on a weekly basis
at a minimum. Business environments typically update as often
as every half hour. Updating more frequently leaves a much smaller
window of time for a new virus to get into a corporate system.
Operating system patches are a commonly overlooked method of protecting
against computer viruses. The Microsoft Update website found at
http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com is updated quite frequently with
very important patches and program enhancements for the various versions
of Microsoft Windows. This is the best free site on the Internet
that nobody is using.
All computer users should use at the very least some sort of personal
firewall software to protect against not only system crackers but some
forms of virus replication. Businesses should use a hardware based
firewall system. A firewall will provide an effective block against
an outside intruder. Another commonly employed method is
an internet router that employs NAT (Network Address Translation).
NAT takes the public IP address and translates it into a private
IP address for a computer so that it can’t be reached by an intruder.
NAT is highly effective and easy to implement.
Spyware also called adware is nearly as bad as having a computer virus.
Spyware is software created typically by advertising agencies.
When you visit certain websites; some software can be secretly installed
on your PC. This software then send a message back to its creator
over your internet connection that in effect says: “I found another
computer! Send me more pop-ups and spam!” Few people realize
that by protecting against spyware you can eliminate a great deal of
the dreaded pop-ups with out the need or overhead of using a pop-up
blocker. Popup blockers treat the symptom where an anti-spyware
scanner will treat the root problem. Of course you can use both
provided your computer is fast enough to support them. A free,
award winning anti-spyware scanner called “AdAware” can be found at
http://www.lavasoft.de. Again I must stress that the
scanner should be kept up to date to be effective.
As a private
consult and I am often called upon to clean up computer systems that
have become infected. Several of the computers I have worked on
have absolutely no protection on them. In some cases I find a
virus scanner installed that hasn’t been updated for a number of years
making it completely useless. I often find multiple different
viruses on the same machine along with hundreds of spyware components.
Please practice safe computing. No one will do it for you.
The data you save may be your own.
Network Associates Virus Information Library
Network Associates “MyDoom” virus information
AdAware software website
Microsoft Windows Update website
McAfee / Network Associates website
Symantec Software website for Norton Anti-Virus
The Microsoft Antivirus Reward Program
and Spam: Time to Fight Back"
(editorial, Business Week, 9/08/2003