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Viruses 101: Keeping Your Computer System Healthy

Some tips on how to stave off or cure computer bugs.

Winter is upon us, bringing cold temperatures, the flu and other nasty viruses. But some little buggers are seasonal independent and live right at your fingertips on keyboards, in your emails and on unfamiliar websites. Unfortunately, these digital critters can’t be cured with mom’s chicken soup and bed rest — but there is hope.

A computer virus or “malware” can act in many ways, but it simply is a software program capable of reproducing itself with the intent to destroy, steal data or just disrupt your ability to use your computer. According to Kaspersky Security Network, a leading security company, 73,619,767 computer attacks were identified in 2009. In comparison, an actual health pandemic, Swine Flu, had 25,584,595 reported cases worldwide.

While you’re trying to accomplish a computer task, nothing is more annoying than having a pop-up window tell you how to enjoy more pleasures, or having it dismantle your ability to search the web to find information about your infection and find a remedy.

But worse still is that some of these viruses can cause serious damage. It’s estimated that the “I Love You” virus, which stole passwords and emailed them to hacker sites, caused $10 billion in damages. Computer worms, which replicate themselves through networks and Trojan horses, can allow backdoor access into your system, causing such damage that sometimes people can’t even retrieve their personal documents or photos, and some must rebuild their computers from scratch.

And new threats come out daily. As most of you know, the first line of defense is to install a reliable virus protection program on your computer. But it’s just as important that you setup the automatic update configuration, so that the software stays current. So is running regularly scheduled scans.

The best way overall to prevent viruses from attacking your system and wreaking havoc, however, is to pay attention while you work. A little common sense goes a long way in prevention. Here are some simple ways to protect your system from infection.

  • Don’t open any email or attachments from people you don’t know. If you do know the sender but the subject seems unusual or misleading, stay away from opening any attachments or selecting any links. Send the person a separate email asking him or her if they actually sent you the questionable email. You wouldn’t open your door without verifying who is on the other side, so do the same with emails. And definitely don’t select the link or attachment. Verify it or delete it.
  • Know what antivirus software is on your system. You’d be surprised how many viruses are spread because a pop-up appears on the screen “notifying” you that a virus had been found and tells you to select “OK” to clean it. This can be a trick and the announcement is actually the virus. A good line of defense is to familiarizing yourself with your software so that you know how it acts when it really finds a virus.
  • Stay away from pornography websites, sharing sites known as peer-to-peers, crack key generation sites, and other red light cyber districts. These neighborhoods are filled with pesky vermin looking to embed themselves in your system. These type of sites frequently present problems because they offer illegal content or are setup specifically to deliver some form of malware.
  • Don’t hit “cancel” on a pop-up that looks suspicious. Instead, Windows users should right click on the taskbar, select “Task Manager” and then end the browser program. Many times the virus engineers make both the “cancel” and “OK” buttons launch the virus. Sneaky guys!
  • If your system is infected, run your virus protection program first, if you’re able, to see what it finds. Then check the websites of some of the major virus companies, such as Trend, BitDefender, or Kaspersky, for information about your infection. There are many tools from the major companies that you can run to clean your system. Two great independent free tools I recommend are Malwarebytes and Spybot. But there are many more available and usually a combination of them works to do the job.
  • If all else fails, you can try and restore your computer system to a previous date. But that is the subject of a whole other article.

Finally, a quick search on Google can guide you and offer some additional prevention and cleaning methods. Just keep in mind that if it looks fishy, it probably is, and stay away from the bad side of cyber town. Prevention goes a long way.

Joel Scott is an information technology manager for a global software company with more than 10 years experience in corporate IT services. He lives in Long Beach.

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