Virus Primer

What is a Virus?

In short, a virus is any program that makes copies of itself, often times moving from computer to computer over a network or by email. Using your own email address book, they can make you both the victim and the perpetrator.

Some are harmful in only that they spread so much that Internet or local network traffic gets bogged down. However, many are designed to actively damage your files and system.


Virus warnings make you cower in fear behind all sorts of system-slowing software, when a few setting changes and common sense could protect your system far better.

Worse yet, passed-on email chain letter warnings give you directions on how to “check your system and remove the infected file” only to learn that file was supposed to be there in the first place to make your computer work properly.

Some of the worst attacks are when Internet servers are taken over and used to flood the lines with file requests (DOS – Denial of Service attack). One of the worst of these was in October 2002, when an attack crippled 9 of the 13 root servers that are the heart of the Internet worldwide. Fortunately, the Internet is so resilient in structure that it only caused a slight slowdown for most users.

Protecting Yourself

Common Sense Rule #1: Don’t download software through file sharing or otherwise that you are not positive is from a legitimate company or distributor.

Common Sense Rule #2: Don’t open attachments in emails that you were not expecting without checking with the person who sent it. A friend may not know they have a virus, and the virus may have used their email program to spread itself to everyone in their address book.

Exception: If the file is not executable or a file type that would not contain a macro, and is from someone you know or were expecting, it should be safe. If you don’t know the difference, just avoid everything, but keep a look out in particular for anything ending in .exe, .zls, .zip, .scn, and .bat — beware of common extensions followed by these, such as “mydog.jpeg.zls” or “Proposal.doc.exe”.

Getting even

If you get a file with a suspected virus (especially if it’s from someone on the same ISP, cable in particular), hunt them down and notify them (by phone if possible) that email was sent to people in their address book. Often times these files are mutations of private documents, spread unknowingly around the net. If they still don’t care, remind them that if they allow their system to spread a virus, they may be civilly and/or criminally liable for damages if they do not act now that they’ve been notified.

If you are in charge of an office, post the above rules and make everyone personally aware of the potential problems created by not following them. If they don’t comply, fire them. If it caused a problem, sue them.

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