was a tough month on e-mail users everywhere — every few days,
new e-mails were sent to our inboxes from unfamiliar people, often
with weird subject lines and unexpected attachments.
know that much of that was due to the dozens of variants of two
computer viruses, one called MyDoom and the other called Netsky.
Literally every few days there was a new version of these threats
(and they are still being released at this writing).
out no better, although the new virus, called Sasser, does not travel
via e-mail at all: If you are running Windows 2000 or above (including
XP) and you do not have the proper protection, Sasser can infect
your computer without arriving in your e-mail at all!
the alleged Sasser author has been caught, new variants by other
virus writers are already emerging.
haven't educated yourself on Internet security, now is the time
— and this article is your starting point.
of the current security threats have targeted Windows PCs because
of the large install base, but Macintosh users would be well advised
to read on also; several Mac viruses do exist, and virus writers
are getting trickier all the time.)
E-mail: Be Very, Very Suspicious
The simplest way to
avoid being infected with most viruses is to be very careful with
what you receive in your e-mail. A good rule of thumb is never click
on an attachment you were not expecting.
Most of the current
crop of viruses travel as e-mails with innocuous-sounding subject
lines like "Hi," or with interesting-sounding attachments called
things like "Joke.doc" or "AnnaKournikova.jpg."
Most virus e-mails will
appear to come from someone you do not know — but even if you do
know the person, call or e-mail them first to verify that they did
mean to send you an attachment.
Be a Port of Call
would have saved you from MyDoom and Netsky, but not Sasser or last
year's Blaster worm.
Why not? Because Sasser
and Blaster do not travel via e-mail, but through an imaginary doorway
into your computer called a "port."
Most computer users
do not need any open incoming ports on their PCs (if you do, you
already know it). The good news is that many corporate networks
(AAPG's headquarters network, for example) are protected by software
called a "firewall," which prevents unauthorized incoming ports
from the Internet.
The bad news is that
your home computer probably is not so protected — and if you access
the Internet from somewhere not protected by a firewall, especially
if you are using always-on Internet like DSL or cable modems, you
need a firewall.
Check your computer
for open ports by visiting ShieldsUP! at http://www.grc.com/default.htmxeqduytaddxbtezxfs.
Windows XP users have
access to a built-in firewall that will protect them in most cases:
up Windows XP Help.
for the word "firewall."
"Pick a task," click on "Enable or disable Internet Connection
Firewall" to find out more.
Users of other Windows
operating systems should take a look at free-for-home-use options
such as Kerio Personal Firewall (http://www.kerio.com)
or ZoneAlarm (http://www.zonelabs.com),
or other paid options. (These also will protect you from some human
hackers who may try to access your computer via the Internet.)
Get the Latest
Of course, even users
of Windows 2000, XP and above were safe from Blaster and Sasser
if they had run Windows Update. This neat service from Microsoft
makes it easy to install what are called "Critical Updates," which
closed the security holes exploited by those two viruses weeks and
months before they were written.
Windows Update, get online, open Internet Explorer and select Tools
| Windows Update from the menus at the top of the window.
you should always install anything labeled "Critical Update," and
only install other updates if you need them.
can ask your computer to automatically download Critical Updates
when you are online:
Windows XP Help, search for "Windows Update."
"Pick a task," click on "Turn on automatic updates" (users of
other versions of Windows should be able to find similar information
in Help or online).
virus exploited something that had been patched by Microsoft only
weeks before, so it pays to run Windows Update as often as once
Squash the Bug
there is no way to know what will come up in the future, so having
good antivirus software and making sure it is up to date is crucial.
products for Windows home users are AVG Anti-Virus (http://www.grisoft.com)
and AntiVir Personal Edition (http://www.free-av.com).
In a pinch,
a couple of free options that you can run online without installing
anything are McAfee FreeScan (http://www.mcafee.com/myapps/mfs/)
and PC Pitstop Antivirus (http://www.pcpitstop.com/antivirus/).
because you may have a version of McAfee Antivirus or some other
product already installed on your computer — but if it is expired
(if its virus signatures are not up to date) it is not doing you
any good and you should either pay to get the latest virus definitions,
or uninstall it and get one of the free offerings.
you understand how to update your signatures, and do so at least
once a week. Most of these products will even tell you how to remove
any viruses that might be on your computer already.
Rat Out the Spy
is a term that has become more and more common; it refers to software
on your computer that "phones home" by sending information to the
spyware writer without letting you know what it is doing.
like a virus, and indeed it is "like" a virus, with the difference
that spyware is not trying to damage your computer, and if you have
some you probably installed it yourself with some other free software
find and remove spyware using products like Spybot-Search &
or Ad-Aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com/).
be sure you understand how the software works, and keep your signatures
updated. Spyware is not as much a threat as a nuisance; it makes
your computer run slower and can slow down your Internet connection
is power, and there are a number of ways to be informed about current
security issues facing computer users. Sign up for one of the U.S.
government's security e-mail bulletins (http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/)
or Microsoft's security alerts (http://www.microsoft.com/security/
security_bulletins/alerts2.asp) to receive the latest right
in your inbox.
The "Rest of the Story"
Mac OS user, a stop at Apple's
site is a great place to start. Simply follow the "Support"
button and type "virus" into the search engine. This search yields
informative information about this system's built-in firewalls and
other security and software update options.
a quick Google
search will find firewall and antivirus software, and probably
anti-spyware software as well, for just about all other operating
systems available to the PC user.
of the system you may be using, now is the time to get out there,
install the latest security patches from your operating system's
manufacturer, get antivirus and firewall software and compute more
Web site editor Janet Brister provided information for this story.)