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Computing Advice

Informative, lighthearted & fun, our computing advice articles are all about the online world we experience.

Protecting yourself from Computer Viruses

My friend called me recently, in a panic, she wanted to know why her computer had just stopped working. All her files were on it, personal letters, digital photographs, email addresses and even her bank statements she had downloaded into her Quick Books program. I asked if she had recently opened any strange emails while I hoped secretly she had listened to my advice many times about not opening attachments. She replied that she had not. I asked then if she had any emails recently she had opened. She thought for a moment and then replied that her mother had forwarded a joke to her that she remembered had an attachment. She said that she hadn't opened the attachment though. I asked if she had "previewed" the email. Previewing is a feature in some email programs such as Outlook and Outlook Express (by Microsoft) that allows you to view the email without double clicking to open it fully. She said, "well yes, I always view my email this way, it is safe right?

The answer is: NO. Previewing is the same as viewing. Any malicious code that is in an email or webpage that is sent via email can run, often without the user knowing it during preview just as it would if you double clicked to open it. Once she called her mother, it was confirmed, she had received a virus from HER sister, that sent out to everyone in her email address book. Lucky for her mom though, she received a warning from her anti-virus program and it wiped out the virus before it did damage. Unlucky for my friend, she didn't have an anti-virus program running on her computer at all. It wiped out all her programs and locked up her system so tight, only re-formatting the drive and losing all her files and programs fixed it.

You have no doubt heard simliar stories or perhaps gone through this yourself. So, what can you do to prevent this?

Never use the preview pane!
In Outlook or Outlook Express, go to VIEW and uncheck the heading that says PREVIEW PANE.

Ensure you know who your email is from!
In Outlook or Outlook Express, you can RIGHT CLICK on a piece of mail, click OPTIONS and then look at the header information. By viewing this, you can scroll down to see who the email actually came from. Most times, this is the best way to catch bogus emails. If it isn't coming from a known address or user, don't open it, just close out of the header information and delete it.

Don't open attachments, tell people to give you a heads up!
Tell everyone you know to send you an email PRIOR to sending you any kind of attachment, then send the file and send it zipped. Do the same for them as well. You should make this a habit. If you get an email with an attachment, just delete it unless you had a email stating exactly what you were going to get first.

Do not click on links in emails unless you know the site!
Many subscription emails and spam emails come in, it is hard to avoid. Sometimes the virus isn't in the email itself, but residing on the server or some webpage. If you click on the link, you could be initiating a download right to your computer or opening up your computer to other users.

Pick a virus program and use it, daily!
There are many good programs out there to help you protect your computer and it's files. However, you must update it regularly. Do not assume it will cover everything. There are hundreds of new viruses created every month, anti-virus programs are not a solution, they are a help, do not rely on them as an end all solution. The only end all solution is to unplug your comptuer from the Internet and never use it.

Educate yourself, friends and family!
Teach your children about how to use their email wisely. Don't go to unknown or strange sites such as code crack sites or warez sites. Share your knowledge about how to protect your computer and keep your virus programs up to date so that you lessen the likelihood of getting a virus from your friends or family.

You can buy a virus program online now at Amazon.com for 15-20% off the regular price:


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