Are you up-to-date?

Are you up-to-date?

By Richard Heller

Are you up-to-date

I just updated my anti-virus software, as I do about once a week. As I was doing the update, the software informed me that it had added the information on 2927 new viruses. That’s right, 2927 NEW viruses added in one week.

Virus writing has developed into a game, with names such as Elf, HLLP, Hooters and PS_MPC. The Hooters virus has over 300 variations and the PS_MPC virus has over 200 varieties. There are programs available on the Internet that enable you to create your own virus.

Most of the viruses created with these programs are fairly simple for an up-to-date virus checker to spot as the program creates a virus that is somewhat standard. You may want to create a virus that pops up the word “John” on the screen at 10 a.m. each day, and someone else writes a virus that pops up “Hello” at 11 p.m. As long as the same program was used to create the virus, the virus program file would be similar enough that the anti-virus program would catch them, but the viruses would have two different names.

If the person who created the virus decided that he would rather have the message pop up at 10:30 a.m., daily, the virus would receive a new name, the first version would be John01, and the second would be John02. The anti-virus program would have to be updated in order for it to catch this new variation of the virus.

The virus writers are getting much more sneaky and sophisticated. They have discovered ways to place viruses in e-mail, along with word processing documents and spreadsheets. By placing a macro, that is, by using a feature of your program that enables you to automate tasks such as formatting text or doing a mail merge, they can embed a virus that erases your files, changes certain words to vulgar words and other destructive deeds.

These people are naming their virus programs with names that are the same as legitimate programs; they are exploiting a loophole in the way that some programs display file names that lead you to believe that you just downloaded a photo or document, when in reality, it is a virus. When you click on the filename to view the photo, the virus is installed on your computer. The damage it does may not be apparent at first; it may lie dormant until it is activated or certain circumstances, such as date or time, are met.

The other way viruses are activated is while you are connected to the Internet. After the virus program has been placed on your computer, the program may attempt to “call home” and send your password file or other personal data to the virus writer. The virus writer may probe your computer looking for his program and activate it while you are online. A firewall program will block these types of online attacks.

It is important to keep your anti-virus and firewall programs up to date. If you haven’t updated the program recently, you should do it today, before the damage is done.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times or e-mail

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