Protect your computer from viruses

Michael Ford
Managing Editor   
Infected —  The graph above represents the total number of viruses caught, according to a study by North Dakota State University's Information Technology Service.

   Viruses, the common cold of computer security, sometimes cannot be avoided despite best efforts. However, a number of precautions should be taken to minimize a computer’s risk of becoming infected. 

   A computer virus copies itself and infects files and disks, while spreading to other computers whenever infected files or disks become exchanged. Sometimes users pass on viruses to other computers without even knowing it. Viruses may erase or change the information stored on a computer, though some only inflict minimum harm to the system.  

   The University of Arkansas at Monticello uses Trend Micro, an antivirus program that runs daily scans and updates automatically. The university also employs a firewall that protects all computers from undesired Internet traffic. 

   “There are several ways to protect your computer,” said James Roiger, professor of computer information systems. “One way is to install a personal firewall on your computer at home. The second way is to install a reputable anti-virus program (Trend Micro, McAfee, Symantec) and set your program for automatic virus definition updates, or if that option is not available, download updates weekly or when notified that an update is available.” 

   The three major types of viruses:

  • Macro: These viruses spread by sharing document files from Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. After a Macro virus infects the computer, any Word or Excel document created or opened may also contain the virus.
  • Boot Sector: These viruses spread by sharing disks. Any disk can spread a boot sector virus – even unbootable ones.
  • Program: These viruses spread by sharing program files. Because most users share programs less frequently than they share data or document files, this type of virus occurs less than others.

   A virus can not appear on your computer unless a user shares infected files or disks, or downloads infected files from the Internet. Additionally, viruses can not infect write-protected disks.

   “The old saying ‘you get what you paid for’ comes to mind when I think about protecting my computer,” said Trudy Stringfellow, adjunct instructor of computer information systems. “Buy virus protection programs that you can afford—and then some.  Research your options and find out what is the best for your needs—not necessarily what is more popular.” 

   Additional tips for avoiding computer viruses:

  • Create back-up copies of important files and store them separately. Backups will also prevent information from accidental deletion and other damage.

  • Do not share commercial software, as it violates copyright laws and can spread viruses.

  • Scan disks and files after using them on other computers.

  • Scan all files downloaded from the Internet.

  • Scan Word or Excel files before reading them.

   Not all computer damage results from viruses. Old floppies, corrupt hard drives and poorly written programs can result in loss of data. However, if a virus infects the system, relax. Use an anti-virus program to remove the virus, or turn the computer off and find someone who knows how to remove the virus. 

   Viruses active in memory may prevent anti-virus programs from functioning correctly. To override this situation, turn off the computer and reboot from a clean disk before beginning the disinfection process. Eliminate all copies of a virus quickly as possible. Check all your disks, and warn anyone else who may posses infected files or disks.

    Most viruses can be removed without permanent damage to your system, and most virus infections can be prevented. By taking necessary precautions, most computers’ risk of infection can be reduced drastically.  

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The Voice, 2005
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