By: John Michael PierobonJohn Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
I teach computer courses throughout the country. To encourage class participation, when students ask questions I give them a piece of candy. Eventually the question of computer viruses comes up. When it does, after giving out a piece of candy for the question, I answer "Do you take candy from strangers?" Students usually say yes and then laugh. When someone gives you a diskette do you load it on to your computer without checking? Loading software on to your computer is analogous to eating candy.
Viruses are transmitted when you insert a diskette into your computer, copy the software on to your hard drive and run it.
A virus may also infect your system by downloading software off the Internet. For example, you get an e-mail message with a program attached to it. The message warns you about a virus and tricks you by stating the attached program is the antidote to the virus. You open your e-mail, run the antidote program and that sets the virus in motion.
Here are some not-so-fun facts about viruses. A virus may be distributed in any executable program. Viruses usually make copies of themselves and attach themselves to other programs. They may do anything from displaying annoying messages to corrupting your data to erasing your entire disk. Viruses are operating system specific, meaning that a virus that affects a Windows system will not hurt a Macintosh.
There are many virus checking software packages. Some are free, and some you can buy. Most virus checkers can be run by hand or at periodic intervals. Most run off line, but there are some that you can run on line and they are the best defense against viruses from the World Wide Web.
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should have an application proxy firewall with the ability to screen files for viruses. After all, an ISP cannot afford to have its network infected.
Almost all e-mails warning about viruses are hoaxes. They suggest you forward on the warning to others. This creates a chain of useless e-mail. Many of these warnings tell you not to open your e-mail. A virus cannot infect your system by just opening your e-mail. E-mail is just text, and viruses need an executable program to get started.
The best way to prevent your system from being infected by a virus is to use common sense. Do you know and trust the person that gave you the diskette you are about to load on to your computer? This is not any different than asking "Do you know and trust the person that gave you that piece of candy?"
© 1999 - 2006 John Michael Pierobon