Understanding Computers
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  Time to Get a Flu Shot
  • Find out more about viruses.
  • Being a healthy person, I scoffed at the idea of getting a flu shot. I figured that becoming a parent means I'm not allowed to get sick and my immune system knows it. This winter, I caught a virus that knocked me flat for two weeks. I'm fine now, but I'd still be recovering if my computer had been down for that long.
    Computer viruses are nothing to scoff at. Viruses can mail themselves to everyone in your address book, wipe out your hard drive, give your credit card number and passwords to "zombie masters," attack other computers using your address, and host illicit websites on your computer.
    A nasty family of viruses called W32.Klez is going around these days. The Klez can disable your computer, attack anti-virus software, and mail themselves out to everyone in your address book, but with a twist. Klez spoofs addresses. It picks an address at random from your address book and pretends to have been sent from that address. This makes Klez hard to track and sparks a lot of unproductive dialogue between victims.
    Okay, so what is a virus? In simple terms, a virus is any application that you never asked for that makes your computer do things that you would never want it to do.
    What should you do about computer viruses? To quote Benjamin Franklin, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
    Install an anti-virus program, yesterday and update it weekly. While there are many fine commercial products available, there are also free, equally effective anti-virus programs.
    Never open an email attachment that you weren't expecting. Delete the message at once. It doesn't matter if it claims to be from your mother or the Prime Minister. If the attachment is genuine, you can always get them to send it again. It is crucial to realize that email viruses masquerade as letters from friends. They never have a subject like: "Malicious File from a Stranger," even though that's exactly what they are.
    At the risk of having Bill Gates and company knock on my door: don't use Outlook or Outlook Express for email. Email viruses exploit any one of many holes in the security of these two programs. There are free mail applications which work as well or better without the vulnerability of Outlook. [Since this article was written, Microsoft has fixed these vulnerabilities -ed.]
    Install a firewall. A firewall monitors and restricts the flow of information to and from your computer over your internet connection. Zombie masters are powerless if they cannot access your computer through the internet. The best firewall on the market is free for private use.
    If you think you have a virus, disconnect your computer from all networks, including the internet. Use a friend's machine to search for a cure.
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