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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 hard-drive.

     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.

References

http://vil.nai.com/vil/default.asp
Network Associates Virus Information Library

http://vil.nai.com/vil/content/v_100983.htm
Network Associates “MyDoom” virus information

http://www.lavasoft.de
AdAware software website

http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com
Microsoft Windows Update website

http://www.McAfee.com
McAfee / Network Associates website

http://www.Symantec.com
Symantec Software website for Norton Anti-Virus

http://www.microsoft.com/security/antivirus 
The Microsoft Antivirus Reward Program

"Viruses and Spam: Time to Fight Back"
(editorial, Business Week, 9/08/2003
Issue 3848, p128)

 

   

 

 


 

United States  - Norton Internet Security 2007

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Last modified: 11/10/18