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Protect Yourself Against Computer Viruses

As more and more people use e-mail, the chances of you receiving a computer virus increase dramatically. However, receiving a virus and "activating" it are two completely different things. The following information will help you to learn how to protect yourself.

Install Anti-virus Software
The first step is to protect yourself and your computer by installing an anti-virus program such as Norton AntiVirus or McAfee VirusScan. Make sure you use a fully registered version - the $70 cost will become the smartest investment you ever make.

Enable Real-Time File Protection
Simply installing the anti-virus program won't necessarily mean you are fully protected - you need to configure the program to do certain things. One of the most important features is the ability of the program to scan each file that is accessed on your computer when you open it. This feature is called real-time file protection, and it means that even if you make a mistake and click on a virus file, the program will stop the virus from activating. It also means that your e-mail will be scanned as it is downloaded into your inbox.

Perform Regular Scans
Even though you have real-time protection turned on, you will still want to schedule a comprehensive scan of all your hard drives on a regular basis, preferably each day. Schedule the anti-virus program to perform the scan each night or early morning, when you know you won't be using the computer. You only need to set up the scan once; the anti-virus software will then perform its task while you are sleeping!

Update your Anti-virus Software Every Week
Your anti-virus software can only protect you against viruses that it knows about! As new viruses are being created every day, you need to update your anti-virus software on a regular basis. This means logging on to the software company's website and downloading the updated "virus definition file". You may then need to run the downloaded file to complete the update.

Be Very Careful of Attached Files
Most viruses today come in the form of a file that is attached to an e-mail sent to you - usually by someone you know. The virus is activated when you try and open the attached file by clicking on it.
Therefore, a simple form of protection is to be very careful when receiving a message with an attachment on it. Knowing the sender is not enough - take a close look at the message - does it sound like your friend? Does the message reference the attached file? Were you expecting the e-mail?
Take a closer look at the name of the attached file, especially the last three characters (known as the file extension). If the file extension is one of the following, it usually means that clicking on the file will run a program file, which is what viruses are:

Another interesting clue is to see if there are two file extensions, such as this example of a Microsoft Word File that has been changed into a virus file (note the two periods and two file extensions):
Keep Your Ears and Eyes Open
Viruses that are "successful" and catch a lot of people with their guard down usually become quite famous. Information warning other people about them is often distributed via e-mail, newsletter or on the anti-virus software websites. Take a moment to read these warnings so that you might be in a better position to catch the virus if it is ever sent to you. A good example of this is the "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" virus, which many people can now recognize as soon as it comes in.

What Do You Do if You Receive a Virus?
If you receive an e-mail with a suspected virus, do not open the attachment. Simply delete the e-mail, which sends it to the trash folder in your e-mail program. Then, empty the trash folder to remove it from your computer permanently. You can then send an e-mail to the sender advising them that you think they have sent a virus.

What Do You Do if You Activate a Virus?
If your guard was down and you activated the virus by opening the attached file, keep your fingers crossed and hope that your anti-virus program catches the virus and stops it from doing any damage. If it does, follow the instructions on how to delete the quarantined file, and any other necessary steps.
If your anti-virus program did not catch the virus (perhaps you have not updated the virus definition files), then the virus will try to execute its programming. This can range from trying to e-mail itself to everyone in your e-mail address book, to deleting files on your hard drive.
If you know that the virus has been activated, then you need to take steps to fix your computer and/or warn other people.
The first step is to determine exactly which virus your computer has been infected with. You can do so by visiting the anti-virus software website and reading up on the various known viruses. Once you know which virus your computer has, then you can take steps to fix your computer.
If the virus is the type that sends itself out to other people (usually called a worm), then one of the first steps is to warn those same people about the threat. Send them all a note explaining what you think has just happened, and ask them to delete any previous recent message from you that contains an attachment.
Your next step is the follow the directions from your anti-virus software website as to how to correct the damage. This may mean downloading a repair program, or it could require more extensive action that is best handled by a computer expert.

Virus Defense Checklist
Click on the following link to view a simple and easy to use checklist that you can use at home or at the office to ensure that you have taken all of the correct steps to protect yourself against viruses.
  • Virus Defense Checklist
    The above file is in PDF format. You will need Acrobat Reader installed in order to view it. You can download the program for free from