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VIGILANCE, SOFTWARE GUARD AGAINST DESTRUCTIVE VIRUSES.

Byline: Dan Keating Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

I got a sad phone call this week from J.R. in Miami, Fla. Not the famous J.R. of "Who Shot J.R.?" fame. But she'll be at least a little bit famous now, because her sad tale is going public.

Her son was on a commercial on-line service and inquired about getting a popular program. Someone he didn't know volunteered to send it to him electronically.

In the wonder of computer technology, the new file arrived in a moment. The son downloaded the file to his own computer, fired it up and - ZAP! He and his computer got trashed.

"He usually does a virus scan," said his mother.

But not this time. Man, oh man, it hurts.

So, the first and most ironclad rule of safe computing is to be careful about what goes into your computer. All the good rules from safe sex apply: Know who you're dealing with, be careful what kind of crowd you hang out with, don't accept anything from strangers, and use protection!

Viruses are hidden programs, which people write and then spread - maybe to show off their programming prowess, maybe just out of meanness. The viruses come tucked in supposedly desirable computer software or on computer disks, and infect everything they encounter.

Some are just pranks; others can cause catastrophic damage to computers. (One of the most notorious, the Michelangelo virus, sits quietly on your computer all year and then rears its ugly and destructive head on the great artist's birthday, March 6.) They can delete files, like things you've been saving, or software that runs the computer - which causes huge problems.

You can't get a virus from looking at e-mail, since e-mail isn't a software program that does things. But e-mail can have other files attached, like a longer note or a program file. If that attached file is a program (or a Microsoft Word document - which can carry a virus in its document-handling features), then you have to be careful of viruses. Also, you can't get a virus from just surfing the Internet's World Wide Web or commercial on-line services - but you can if you download things.

Downloading files directly from reputable organizations is almost always safe. Taking things from people you don't know is dangerous.

Now, let's talk about protection: anti-virus software. There are two main varieties.

The first kind scans your computer at your command to look for nasty things. With this type, you can put all downloaded files into a particular directory on your computer (mine is called "incoming"). Then, before you run anything you've downloaded, tell the scanning program to scan just that directory for viruses.

Scanning programs all come with scheduling capability, so you can order them to scan weekly or nightly or whenever you want. Many will also automatically scan any new disk put into the computer.

Examples of scanning virus software are Central Point Anti-Virus for DOS, Windows and OS/2, Ontrack VirusScan for DOS, Windows and OS/2, or Disinfectant for Macintosh (which is free).

The other major kind stays in the background on your computer all the time. It not only does a scan when you start up, but it inspects new files as they arrive. It also watches for "suspicious activity," like any program that tries to mess with the grisly innards of your computer system - where no program has a need to go. Anything trying to erase those files is probably up to no good!

Examples of this kind of software are Datawatch Virex for Macintosh, Norton Anti-Virus for DOS/Windows and OS/2, Symantec Anti-Virus for the Macintosh (known as SAM), IBM Antivirus for DOS/Windows and OS/2, and McAfee VirusScan for DOS, Windows and OS/2.

All of the virus programs will remove the viruses and "clean" your system. Often this can be done without losing any of the information from the "infected" areas, but sometimes files on the computer are "corrupted" - damaged beyond repair. But the sooner or more often you check for viruses, the less you'll lose if infection strikes.

Some other notes:

Remember that the automatic monitoring software runs all the time, so if you have a system with minimal brainpower, you don't want to be using up some on the virus monitor.

If you generally practice safe computing, you might not need the perpetual monitoring. On the other hand, if security is a top priority for you and you regularly risk exposure (sharing disks, downloading programs), then automatic monitoring might work for you.

If you have Windows 95, make sure to get software made specifically for it, because software for the older Windows won't work.

When you buy virus software, be sure to check for the "subscription price."

An oft-quoted (but never proven) statistic is that three new viruses are created every day. I don't know if the number is right, but new viruses do pop up constantly, and that's why you need to buy a subscription - to keep your anti-virus software updated. Otherwise, a hot new killer virus might go right past your defenses. Most products let you get the update right off the company's Internet or dial-in computer bulletin board service.

A new product out from McAfee offers interesting protection to heavy-duty Web surfers. Called WebScan, it will automatically screen any new program that you download or pull off e-mail. But it doesn't clean the virus. It only reports it and suggests that you clean it with a regular anti-virus product, or delete it.

So it doesn't try to be a full-service virus protector. On the other hand, if you download a lot of things off the Internet, it might be a good extra protection for you.

One final note: If you want to learn more about viruses and protecting yourself, check out the National Computer Security Association on line. You'll see the latest alerts to keep yourself protected.

Protection

SCANNING SOFTWARE: This software scans your computer at your command. You can put all downloaded files into a particular directory on your computer. Then, before you run anything you've downloaded, tell the scanning program to scan just that directory for viruses. Scanning programs all come with scheduling capability, so you can order them to scan weekly or nightly. Many will also automatically scan any new disk put into the computer. Examples of scanning virus software are Central Point Anti-Virus for DOS, Windows and OS/2, Ontrack VirusScan for DOS, Windows and OS/2, or Disinfectant for Macintosh (which is free). MONITORING SOFTWARE: This type of program stays in the background on your computer all the time. It scans when you start up, and it inspects new files as they arrive. It also searches for "suspicious activity," like any program that attempts to mess with your computer system - where no program has a need to go. Examples of this kind of software are Datawatch Virex for Macintosh, Norton Anti-Virus for DOS/Windows and OS/2, Symantec Anti-Virus for the Macintosh (known as SAM), IBM Antivirus for DOS/Windows and OS/2, and McAfee VirusScan for DOS, Windows and OS/2.

CAPTION(S):

CHART

PROTECTION (see text)
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 4, 1996
Words:1192
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