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Protect Yourself Viruses
 

Written By:
Date Posted: October 16, 2001

You have been stoned.

Ugh, I remembered when I got that one. It was over 12 years ago, when floppy disks were the rage. It was my first computer, and I never knew that viruses for computers existed. I don't remember what the "Stoned" virus did, but I did know that it was transferable.

Viruses have gotten more complex and malicious over the years, and it's not really all that hard to contract one on your PC. Viruses, worms, trojans, they're separate entities, but they all do the same thing, ...wreak havoc on your computer. I'll start off by giving a small explanation of each major computer threat.

Computer Virus

A computer virus is a program that "infects" your computer. Usually, unless you enjoy reformatting and wiping off your hard drive, a virus infects your computer when you execute an (unexpectedly) infected file. A virus contains it's own set of programmed functions, which varies depending on what the creator wanted it to do. A virus speads by infecting other files on your computer, and propagates when you transfer an infected file to another via email, or sneaker mail (removable media). It then does the same to the next computer, and the one after that.

Some viruses are relatively harmless. They may pop up a message saying "Hello", or something worse. They can corrupt files, especially system files, rendering a PC unbootable, or they can actually disrupt the master boot record of your hard drive, forcing a fdisk /mbr and reformat. A computer virus can be a program that performs whatever role it's been assigned instantly, or timed for a specific time and/or date.

Trojan Horses

A trojan horse borrows it's discription from the story of Troy, where soldiers hid in a huge wooden horse. They waited until the citezens of Troy brought it in past the security gates, and the soldiers stormed out to take the city.

Like the story, in the computer world, a trojan horse is a malicious program that does not appear to be obvious. There are several trojans out there, and an infamous one is the dreaded Back Orifice. Many times, nobody is aware they've been infected, and trojans are hidden in almost anything interactive in nature.

Back Orifice opens various ports (like doors to your house), and allows a hacker a way into your computer. Luckily, for some of you, it only targets Windows operating systems. .

Once infected, a hacker can easily gain control over your system, doing everything you can, except he/she can do it remotely. Delete files, open and close your CD drives, steal personal info, log keystrokes, you name it.

It spreads like a virus, but unlike a virus, which is usually obvious in appearance, a trojan is tougher to spot.

Worms

A worm, though infectious, differs from trojans and viruses. A worm rarely damages actual system files, but rather, it infects your computer with the intention of replicating itself and spread to others. It hunts the local network you're connected to, be it LAN or Internet, and scours for other computers with security issues to exploit.

It's this replication that is the problem, as for any program to work, it needs processor usage and time. As it spreads, it uses up network bandwidth. In the case of "Code Red" earlier in the year, there was so much traffic cause by the spreading, servers went down, and the Internet slowed to a crawl.

Some worms, when it reaches critical mass, may await a certain date, and network flood a particular website. This was the case with a variation of Code Red, when the whitehouse.gov domain was the target.

Hoaxes

I'm mentioning this here because sometimes email hoaxes are as disruptive as an email virus. A hoax can be descibed as something that isn't real, duh! Forwarding an email to 50 people in your mailbox will not win you a free car, but it's more likely to piss off the 50 people you sent it to. A few passing around right now is unfortunently at the expense of the tragedy revolving around the incidents on September 11, 2001. I'm not going to go into detail, in fear of more/renewed spam, but I'll say that "No, it was not Satan's face in the smoke" and "No, there was no Q33 NY flight that day".

Other hoaxes are in regards to a new virus on the loose, and to forward the email to everyone you know. In most cases, it appears legit, but usually, it isn't. In fact, you're doing the work for the "virus" by flooding mailboxes with more junk.

Take the time to do some research at the Antivirus manufacturer sites, and at .

How to Protect Yourself

There are a wealth of tools available for you to protect your computer and information. First of all, all of you should be running personal firewalls and antivirus software. Not having any of these is like having a house without doors or windows, in a bad neighbourhood with rabid, poisonous monkeys swinging on your chandelier.

A firewall will protect your computer from incoming intrusion, as well as outgoing! Most firewalls automatically protect you from trojans, though in some cases, you'll need to configure it. There are several firewalls available for home use, the best of which is called . It's free for personal use, and one of the most robust available. Others you can try are:



Antivirus software is another must have. Anything you download, either by Internet or email, or anything you copy from removable media should be virus scanned. Some virus scans claim total protection while opening attachments directly from email, but that's usually not the case. Files should be saved locally on your hard drive, then scanned. Virus scanners are only effective if they are kept updated. New viruses are released daily, and you really should keep an eye out for updates. Some of the popular virus scanners available are:



Other Protective Methods

Most viruses and trojans are OS specific. Unfortunently, the majority of the problems are Microsoft problems. Hackers choose to exploit the most popular OS in the world, because that's the easiest way to get their message across. Make no mistake though, Mac OS, Linux, and Unix are not invincible, but since they're not as common, Microsoft is today's whipping boy. It's important to keep your operatin system up to date with all the security fixes. A list of can be found on their .

Another protective measure is to excercise common sense. DO NOT run attachments from emails, DO NOT open attachments from people you do not know. Try to avoid too much file sharing with strangers, and certainly it's a good idea to avoid pirated software since you generally don't know how many hands that swapped through. If you need files, be sure the source is reliable. You should disable, or at least set to "prompt", any automatic running of macros and scripting.

I hope you found this article useful, and if it's all old news to you, make sure it's old news to everyone else you know, and email this to all of them.

Hehe, that was a joke. No! Stop! Get your mouse cursor away from the Send button!!!!!

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