By R. Heller
What exactly is a computer virus? In simple terms, its a computer program written for one purpose: to raise havoc with your computer. The virus program attaches itself to a program on your computer and then spreads to other programs or other computer systems.
A virus can take over your computer without your knowing about it. Your computer may start acting strangely, or it may beep at you or display strange messages. The program may have a destructive payload that changes data files, such as figures in a spreadsheet, it may erase or rename files, or it may erase everything from your hard drive. There are viruses called macro viruses that infect your word processing or spreadsheet automated tasks, such as those used to do special text formatting or calculations.
Most viruses do their harm as soon as the program is executed, but there are some viruses that will only rear their ugly little heads on a specific day, such as Friday the 13th.
Until recently, the only real harm that the virus program could do was erase files or do other forms of mischief; they could not damage your keyboard, monitor or other hardware. Unfortunately, the virus writers are getting smarter and more evil, and there are now programs that will destroy the computer BIOS, rendering the computer useless.
It is important to know that a virus program will only infect your system if the program is run. Again, the programmers have discovered the e-mail programs such as Microsoft Outlook can run a virus program when you preview your e-mail. Notice that I said preview, meaning that you do not have to open the infected e-mail to get the virus; just by clicking on the e-mail and seeing the preview, you have been hit. The problem with e-mail viruses is that they attach themselves to e-mail, that you get from your friends. The next time that you send e-mail the virus attaches itself to your e-mail, and it is passed on to your friends. It will also go through your address book and send e-mails to the names found there, infecting more and more computers.
In order to protect yourself, it is important to have the latest anti-virus program installed on your system. Even though the computer you bought two years ago had an anti-virus program installed on it, the program is essentially useless today. There are dozens of new viruses written daily, and unless your software is current, you are open to infection.
A couple of the better-known anti-virus products are Norton AntiVirus and McAffee VirusScan. These programs sell for approximately $50 each and are updated on a regular basis. Another program is called InnoculateIT, and is available from Computer Associates (www.cai.com). This product is available over the Internet, and it has a good price, FREE for personal use.
It is important to scan every floppy disk that you get from a friend or bring home from work. Most people are not even aware that they have been infected. Be sure that you are one of the informed.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.