IS IT A VIRUS, OR A HOAX?

Every couple of weeks, millions of web users go through a perverse ritual of forwarding "virus warnings" they have received to everyone on their mailing lists.

What most of the participants in this activity don't realize, is that many of these warnings are nothing more than hoaxes.

Why are there virus hoaxes circulating the Net? I can only imagine teenagers giggling in delight as they watch their "warnings" cross the globe in a day.

While a harmless prank, it does result in an incredible waste of time and resources.

Some of the latest viruses I've been warned about include: Bud Screen Saver, Good Times and Win a Holiday. These are all hoaxes.

The next time you receive a "warning" about some new computer-decimating virus, first visit a web site of any of the major anti-virus software vendors to to see if it's a hoax or not, before forwarding the message to your entire address book.

ON THE OTHER HAND

Just because there are an awful lot of hoaxes out there, doesn't mean there aren't real Viruses, Trojan Horses and Worms either. In fact, I receive infected files, sent to me by others through my e-mail, on a regular basis!

So far, I've gone unscathed, and you can, too. Protecting yourself from the real risks involves a four-step, but simple, process.

First, you must understand that the vast majority of viruses are passed from one computer to another by sharing an infected file, not simply by surfing the Web. In the old days, the floppy disk was the typical means of transport. Nowadays, it's e-mail.

If you receive an e-mail that has an attached file, be wary of executing (clicking your mouse) on the filename of the attachment. Reading the e-mail message itself will not do you any harm. But, starting a program (files that end with .exe or .com), or opening a Microsoft Word document or Excel spreadsheet are all very dangerous activities.

If you receive such an attachment, and don't recognize the sender, simply delete the message; it's that simple.

Unfortunately, many people you actually know will send infected Word and Excel files as attachments, without realizing that they are passing along a virus.

Thus, the second step to protecting yourself is to buy a good virus protection program. Then, when someone you know sends you a Word document or other attachment, you can check the file for know viruses before you open it. If the file is infected, the anti-virus program will take care of it for you!

The third action you must take for safety sake, is to regularly visit the manufacture's web site for the anti-virus software you've purchased in order to receive program updates. As viruses are constantly being developed, the best software in the world won't protect you if it's out of date! The major software vendors in this category offer these updates for free. I personally update mine once or twice a month.

Also, while you're on the web, be sure to check for recent "virus warnings" that are be posted on a regular basis. A few good sites to learn more about real viruses and anti-virus software are:

http://www.avertlabs.com/public/datafiles/valerts/ http://vil.mcafee.com/villib/alpha.asp
http://www.symantec.com/avcenter

These sites can be a real lifesaver. For example, I recently received an e-mail attachment of a program called Happy99.exe. While this file was sent from someone I actually knew, I also was aware that this was a malicious program because I had already read about it on the above sites. Thus, I simply deleted the e-mail and saved myself considerable trouble.

Finally, let's not forget that the best protection of all is to make regular backups of all you're important data files. Whether it's theft, fire or a virus, nothing can offer you the piece of mind that having a recent backup will bring!

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Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale