Only you can prevent computer virus infections

By Вen Li

University is generally thought of as a place of higher learning, enlightenment, and sharing. Unfortunately, that sharing can include computer viruses that come along for the ride when students share files and disks and the latest annoying Flash e-mail forward. Even though antivirus software is installed on most computers on campus, viruses have briefly gone undetected. If you’re lucky, an undetected virus may only crash the computer, or delete a few files. Less fortunate victims (like certain former eastern bloc governments during the SirCam outbreak) have their confidential documents e-mailed to random people.

So what are we to do? First and foremost, use and maintain antivirus software. Scan your system regularly and download the latest updates. Antivirus software can’t protect you from new viruses unless you keep your virus definitions (which tell your antivirus software about the latest viruses) up to date. Antivirus software publishers offer free updates over the Internet (see links below) and most antivirus software can be configured to update their definitions automatically.

Second, be aware of what you are doing. It may sound simple, but e-mail viruses such as Melissa, I love You, SirCam and their kin only spread when someone is bored enough to click attachments from unknown random people seeking love, advice or arm lengthening. If in doubt, don’t click it and delete it.

Macro-viruses, scripts that infect Word and Excel documents, and related JavaScript viruses in e-mail, behave similarly in that you must explicitly open the infected file yourself for the virus to spread. To avoid infecting yourself, be cautious and use a virus scanner on any files you get on disk or via e-mail before opening them, or disable scripting all together.

Third, only use software from sources you trust. Don’t download or run programs from e-mail correspondents, obscure Web sites or message boards, and avoid files from unknown Internet chat participants. Trojans, programs which appear to do one thing (singing fish) but have hidden malicious functions (taking over your computer), are often spread via chat rooms and can missed by antivirus software so caution is in order. Also avoid forwarding programs to other users to prevent any viruses you may have from spreading.

Fourth, back up your files regularly. If you are unfortunate enough to lose the data on your computer, at least you’ll have something to work from. This doesn’t have to be a daunting task if you are selective about what you copy. You don’t necessarily need to back up programs that can be reinstalled, but you do need a backup copy of the term paper. Be sure that the backups aren’t infected.

McAfee VirusScan for Windows and Macintosh computers is available free to students at Updates, virus definitions, virus removal tools, and other useful information can be found there as well.

A free trial version of Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus, a highly automated product in terms of scanning for viruses and updating virus definitions, is available at www.- Symantec also maintains a virus database and has free downloadable virus removal tools.

Trend Micro has a free on-line version of its virus scanner at which scans files on your PC via a browser plugin. An installable trial version of the software is also available.

Command Software Systems’ AntiVirus is available for many PC-based operating systems including Windows 95/98/NT/2000, Linux and Netware. Trial and downloadable products are available at

A listing of other antivirus software programs and reviews can be found at

What to do if you think you have a computer virus

Your computer may act up or behave strangely for a variety of reasons unrelated to viral activity. For example, hardware and software upgrades can induce strange behaviour if not installed properly.

If you do suspect a virus, virus experts suggest the following:

1) Update your antivirus software and virus definition files (also known as virus signatures). If you don’t have Internet access from the suspect computer, follow the instructions provided by the antivirus program’s publisher on how to get updated virus definitions to the suspect computer from another.

2) Scan all the files on your computer for viruses, as well as any recent backups you’ve made. Attempt repairs on any infected files.

3) If no viruses were found and you are still convinced that you have a virus, use another updated virus scanner.

Leave a comment