Beating a dead horse

Beating a dead horse

By Richard Heller

Beating a dead horse

Over the past few weeks, I have been stressing the need for you to be aware of potential security problems if you use the Internet for web browsing or for e-mail. It is important for you to have an up-to-date anti-virus and firewall program installed on your computer.

The hackers and virus writers are getting sneakier in an attempt to either destroy your data or take over control of your computer. It used to be that people bringing an infected floppy disk home from work, or vice-versa, transferred viruses from computer to computer. Nowadays, the viruses are being brought to your computer by attachments in e-mail from your family and friends; at least, that is what the subject line says.

The problem is, someone has planted a Trojan on the sender’s computer. The next time they are online checking their e-mail, the Trojan is going through their address book, picking out the names of their friends to send to. You receive the e-mail from them, try to view the attachment and it doesn’t appear. Instead, it has now installed itself on YOUR computer, waiting until the next time you are sending e-mail, where the process repeats.

With millions of people using Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, it is easy for hackers to find the security holes in the products and to exploit the weaknesses. They have discovered that they can write a virus program that will install itself just by having you preview the message. There are two ways to help minimize the problem, the first is to disable the preview mode, and the second is to use a different program for your e-mail. Also, you should be sure to have the latest updates from Microsoft that address some of the security problems.

One of the major ways to destroy the data on your computer is by using a feature designed to make it easier for you to run programs. Through a program called Windows Scripting Host (WSH) and items called Visual Basic Scripts (VBS), hackers can destroy hundreds of files on your computer. One virus will attach itself to all your multimedia and picture files, and will render them useless. The worst thing about this is that your anti-virus program will NOT be able to remove the virus from the files, so you will have to delete them. You can avoid some of the problems by uninstalling Windows Scripting Host.

If all you are connecting to the Internet for is to send and receive e-mail, you may want to consider purchasing a device such as the Mailstation from Cidco. For about $100, you get a keyboard, LCD screen and a modem, all integrated into a book-sized box. The device allows you to send and receive text-only e-mail and send faxes. The e-mail service costs $10 per month. If you also want to browse the web, you should consider WebTV.

All of the incidents in this article have happened to Rockford area residents in the past month. Are you next?

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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