Everything the you Haven't Wanted -- but Need to Know -- about Viruses
Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.
The National Psychologist
Melissa, I Love You, KAK, Nimda, Red Worm. At some point in the past few
years most users on the Internet have encountered at least one of these and more
than likely it hasn't been a pleasant encounter. Each one was created to infect
your computer with a computer virus.
What is a computer virus? There are actually three different types of programs (I am using this term very loosely) that are generally referred to as viruses. Viruses themselves carry out a specific task and infect programs on your computer. Worms cause problems but do not infect programs. Trojan Horses are hidden inside your computer and may appear useful or funny, but are not. The kind of virus doesn't matter; the damage it can inflict is critical.
What can viruses do to your computer? The most benign viruses may simply post a message on your computer or display something on your screen. The Stoned virus, for example, displayed "Your computer is Stoned" but did no damage. From there, viruses get more insidious. Some, like Melissa and I Love You, send a copy of the virus to everyone in your e-mail address book. Others change the names and extensions of your files making them difficult, if not impossible, to find. Still others garble your files or do something equally devastating.
How can you get a virus? The most common way these days to acquire a virus is through e-mail. Viruses will most likely come as attachments to an e-mail message. Some are identifiable by their extension (the letters after the period at the end of a file name). Common extensions to watch out for are .vbs, .exe, .bat, .mm and files with double extensions (e.g., .jpg.exe). In almost all cases, YOU MUST OPEN THE ATTACHMENT TO ACTIVATE THE VIRUS. Other viruses can enter your computer through floppy disks, downloaded software and even some shrink-wrapped new programs. Additionally, you can get a virus by opening an e-mail in HTML format (this is the language that creates the layout for web pages). An HTML e-mail will look like a web page.
How do you know if you have a virus? The most common symptoms of a virus include:
How can you practice "safe computing?"
Take the 10 precautions listed above and you will probably never contract a computer virus. One note: There are lots of viruses out there, but there are also lots of "virus hoaxes." Visit http://www.vmyths.com/ for excellent information on this topic.
Copyright, 2002, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.