Be Protected ! from virus attack

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How do I protect myself from viruses online?

You can protect your computer from computer viruses using a few simple e-mail and web browser functions and some anti-virus software.

The internet can be a fun and exciting place to explore, but computer viruses travel around using it, and they could seriously damage your computer.

If a virus gets on your computer it can delete or even destroy files and software, and even deliver itself to your friends or work colleagues.


Replicators

Just like a medical virus, a computer virus can come in all shapes and sizes. And a computer virus can cause all kinds of different symptoms on your PC.

In general terms, a virus is a tiny little computer program that has the built-in ability to copy itself from one location to another.

Viruses spread from computer to computer

It does this by attaching itself to e-mail messages or hiding in the code of some programs.

As well as making copies of themselves to send to your friends, many viruses will delete files on your computer, or even interfere with your software.

That is why they aren't very popular amongst computer users.


Diagnosing a virus

That doesn't mean that everything that goes wrong with your computer is always a virus, but it does mean that a virus is something to avoid catching.

To spot whether you've got a virus on your computer, you should look for one or more of the following things:

  • your computer being unusually slow
  • new or regularly used floppy disks becoming unusable
  • unusual error messages popping up on screen
  • programmes crashing or slowing down when they're open
  • documents or folders changing size, name or date
  • unusually slow download speeds
  • strange screen activity


Spreading disease

Viruses are transported via e-mail, so before you open all your new messages remember to check who the e-mail is from, and whether it has any file attached to it.

Although they travel via e-mail, viruses cannot be transported within plain text e-mails - messages that do not have files attached to them.

It is the attached file or document on an e-mail message that will carry the virus.

An attached file, or 'attachment', usually shows up as a paper clip, or a small picture of a piece of paper or file icon, that sits on the side or bottom of an e-mail message.

A file icon inside an e-mail = attachment

An attachment can be a picture, Word document or even a movie clip.

If you don't recognise the e-mail address of the person who sent you the message, then you should be very wary of what the message contains.

If the message doesn't look important then we recommend you delete it without opening it.


A virus in your address book

The people who make the viruses often use different tricks to try and make you open the infected e-mail attachment.

The e-mail will often have a title that entices you to open it - using phrases such as 'Important' and 'Read now', or it will pretend to be a joke image or document.

If you recognise a friend or colleague's e-mail address in the message, but don't know what the attachment is, then give them a telephone call, or send a fresh e-mail message to ask if they've recently sent you anything.

Some viruses spread by sending themselves to all the addresses of your friends and colleagues that are in your e-mail address book.

The virus could have sent you an e-mail message from your friend's e-mail address without them knowing it.

If you open that attachment you could be spreading the virus onto your computer, and to all your friends or workmates.

This is how most viruses get around the internet and cause so much trouble.


Anti-virus action

The best way to avoid getting zapped by a virus is to invest in some anti-virus software.

Just like your own personal bodyguard, the anti-virus software checks what you do on the internet and scans for viruses.

If it spots a virus hidden in an e-mail message or web page, then this clever software disables the virus and prevents it from damaging your computer.

Most anti-virus software will automatically make a regular check for computer viruses when you collect your e-mail messages or view certain web pages.

You can also set up your software so that a virus check is carried out whenever you specify.


E-mail scanning

Check the list of the programs supported by your anti-virus software as it's important that it works with the e-mail program you use.

That way it can scan your e-mails before you send them and check ones you receive.

If you use webmail make sure that you still keep your anti-virus software up-to-date even if your webmail provides basic protection.


Where to get software

You can download anti-virus software like AVG for free but make sure you always download the free version for personal use.

If you'd rather fork out for a more deluxe anti-virus software package, then there are others such as Norton's AntiVirus, McAfee VirusScan or Virex.

Check out the alternatives using the software reviews on Zdnet and Internet Magazine .

Or just go into your local computer store and ask their advice on the best virus checking software package within your price range.


Update your definitions

Anti-virus technology isn't foolproof, because new viruses are created all the time.

This means you have to regularly update your virus checker so you can stop new viruses getting onto your computer.

Each virus has a recognisable code or 'definition' that your anti-virus software can spot and disable.

When a new virus comes out, the anti-virus software companies provide a new definition for that virus so that your computer can be protected.

You can update your definitions so you are protected against new viruses by linking to your anti-virus software's website.

It only takes a couple of minutes to download the new virus definitions, and when you finish you'll be fully protected. Look for a button in your program with the word 'Update' on it!

Most virus checkers will prompt you when your virus definitions need updating, but to be sure, we recommend you should do it at least once a month.


Keep Microsoft up-to-date

Microsoft Windows also provides security updates for all their users at their download centre.

Updates are usually pretty big files but you'll also find patches on the site which are smaller. Many viruses spread by using holes in the security of browsers and e-mail products.

If they find a hole, companies like Microsoft make a 'patch' to cover it so you don't have to wait for the next update.

Keep your important programs updated!


Fear factor

Before you get too scared to use the internet, remember that the majority of computer viruses are actually harmless.

Most of them just hop around from computer to computer without deleting, altering or damaging anything.

You could get so worried about viruses that you lose out on all the fun things to do on the web.

Most WebWise computer users will protect themselves with anti-virus software and still manage to enjoy the best that they can find with their keyboard.

However, you should invest in a virus checker to help you just in case a virus finds its way onto your computer - not because it definitely will.

Also be aware that many stories about viruses are actually not true but hoaxes. If you receive a mail warning of a new terrible virus check that it really exists at sites like Symantec's virus encyclopaedia.


Save yourself

Even if you check your e-mail messages thoroughly and regularly update your virus definitions, no anti-virus protection is completely failsafe.

Beware attachments!

New viruses appear all the time, and old ones change or 'mutate' as they get damaged. The best way to avoid losing all the valuable documents and files on your computer is to make a backup copy.

Regularly saving all your documents and files to a floppy disk, CD or some other data storage, is the best way to avoid any lasting damage to your computer.

If a virus hits your computer, most of the software can be reinstalled, but often your personal documents will be lost.

Backing up your documents allows you to simply transfer all your files back onto your computer after everything has been sorted out and the virus removed.


Golden Rules

Here's a quick list of the best ways to keep virus free:

  • Install an Anti-Virus program.
  • Keep it up-to-date - this can usually be done free of charge.
  • Get the latest patches and updates for your operating system.
  • Never automatically open e-mail attachments.
  • Download or purchase software and programs from trusted, reputable sources.
  • Make backups of your important files.

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