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Don't catch the bug.

Don't Catch the Bug

About once a year we get the world-is-coming-to-an-end-computer-virus story. In 1988 it was the story of computer rogue Robert Morris, Jr.'s prank-gone-haywire, which brought down Internet, a widely used national computer network. In 1989 it was the dastardly Datacrime '89 virus. Whenever this happens, I get a lot of telephone calls. I get questions like these: "Am I protected?" "What can I do to make sure I'm safe?"

Computer viruses infected about 200,000 machines last year. They are actually computer programs whose only purpose is to get inside your computer and do vicious things. Some do nothing more than slap a message on your screen to tell you that you've been invaded. Some are a little more wicked and will write garbage onto your disk drive (storage area) until it fills up. The really bad ones destroy data.

People write virus programs for different reasons. Some are probably nothing more than tinkerers who want to see what they can do. Others were born mean, will die mean, and will write computer viruses in between. And some are extortionists.

Some of the worst computer viruses might work like this: You turn on your machine only to find the following message on your screen: "Good morning. I am a computer virus. I've been roaming around in your computer for the past six months, so all of your backups are contaminated. Please send $100 to P.O. Box 123 in Baghdad. If you send money, you will receive instructions telling you how to get out of this mess. If you do anything besides turn off your computer, kiss your data good-bye."

If you look closely at the files on your computer system, you will find that some end with either "COM" or "EXE." These are program and "attach" to them. Then, when one of the infected program runs, so does the virus.

Here are several precautions you can take to prevent computer virus attacks, but they all boil down to one thing: Isolate your machine. 1. Avoid shareware. Shareware (legally shared software) and pirated software (illegally shared software) are far and away the most prevalent sources of computer viruses. In fact, if no one dials into your computer, shareware and pirated software are virtually the only sources. Believe me, I know how tempting it is to use shareware; I know how tight budgets are; I know there are some excellent shareware systems out there. But I also know viruses come from shared software. 2. Use reputable on-line services. Although the best policy is to avoid shareware, you may be forced to use it under certain circumstances (budget restraints and so forth). So if you must use shareware, get it from a reputable on-line data base service where you can copy it directly into your computer. Don't use something given to you by a friend of a friend. 3. Make frequent backups. If a virus strikes and destroys your data, your backups are your only hope. Keep multiple sets. 4. Make your program files "read only." Remember those "COM" and "EXE" files? You can make them "read only." This means your computer will be able to read from these files but can't write anything to them; therefore, no virus can attach. Here's how you do you it (nontechnical types can now skip to item 5): Go to your "C>" prompt and type "ATTRIB +R *.EXE". When the "C>" prompt reappears, type "ATTRIB +R *.COM". Doing this one simple thing is a big step toward virus-proofing your machine. 5. Don't loan out disks with programs on them. They may come back corrupted. If you must loan them out, only loan out copies. 6. Limit others' use of your machine. You may be very careful, but maybe they aren't. 7. Use virus protection software. You may even want to install software designed to protect against viruses. The most well-known package is a product called Flu Shot +. Your local computer dealer can demonstrate these systems for you. It's somewhat of a paradox that some virus protection software is available as shareware. Of course, there's always the story of Baxter Healthcare in Deerfield, Illinois. Last year Baxter brought in virus-protection shareware in an effort to secure its systems. Guess where the crafty old virus was hiding.

If you get hit by a virus, you're not necessarily dead, but I recommend you get someone with computer expertise for help. In general, that person will attempt to restore the data from your backups but will restore your programs from the original diskettes you purchased.

Computer viruses are serious business, but you can take precautions against them. If you do, they are not as horrendous and certainly not as prevalent as the media would have us believe.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:protection from computer virus
Author:Harrison, Steven L.
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Tracking state legislation.
Next Article:The new state agenda.

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