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We receive increasing calls from customers regarding viruses or viral executables (adware, malware, spyware) caused by downloading poor quality software, accepting so called "upgrades" from web sites without a recognised reputation, or being insufficiently protected from the Internet by firewalls. Although there is much information and many sites that deal with the topic, we feel it might be helpful to state some basic policy in this regard. This is for prevention rather than cure. It is of particular interest to Internet Users.
This information is written with a certain degree of PC literacy in mind. If you do not understand it, please approach a consultant or training organisation.
Sections of this article :
Viruses on your computer are a major nuisance. Perhaps the only sure way to erase one completely is to re-format your machine and restore earlier backups (see Resolutions below). The best way of not catching them is to practice a rigid avoidance policy.
Viruses can be easy to avoid. However, we all get pressured to ignore simple safeguards. Well intentioned friends and colleagues will pressure you to read their files. They might insist, badger, cajole, tell you they're safe, tell you "this is cute, you should see this", tell you how much time they spent programming it, tell you how much you'll benefit from this "amazing program", make you feel neurotic if you don't, get angry if you don't. Other common culprits are those who don't understand and have access to your computer - ie: kids. These will be passed to you as a file on a writable CD, floppy disk, or as an e-mail attachment (See Email Security).
- EXE viruses: Don't ever run an unsolicited EXE or COM file (regardless of pressure from colleagues or friends). Especially if from the web or email, from someone else's computer, from any floppy that's been in someone else's PC. Note - this includes self extracting EXE ZIP files. It is perhaps safe if someone with experience or a well founded organisation says so. Even passworded zip files are unsafe if emailed.
- DOC viruses: If you open word or excel doc's and you get a warning "This Doc contains Macros", select either "Open with Macros DISABLED" or don't open it at all. It's likely to have a virus. Only open such a document if your Administrator or Tutor (not friends) insists you should.
- Boot sector viruses: If you are given a floppy with apparently harmless data files on it, make very certain you take the floppy out as soon as you've copied over the desired files. They can generally only transfer to your PC if you leave the floppy in and reboot the PC by accident (very common mistake).
- Email Viruses: See sectionEmail Security
Things that generally can't contain viruses and are safe to transfer / read:
- Backup your PC frequently. With Windows 98 and prior operating systems, this was easily done with a batch file using XCOPY. With the upgrade to Windows XP, XCOPY was not upgraded to allow all files to be copied. This is partly because it would make a mockery of the permissions associated with certain files (permissions are like locks on each file that are rarely understood or used by users but unfortunately exist regardless) and also because of the need for commercial protection to prevent cloning. As a result of this incomplete upgrade, you will need Norton Ghost or similar. Generally infections render the XP rollback function useless so do not rely on the XP system restore.
- Keep your user-data entirely independent of the operating system components. This is so that it can be more easily backed up and restored (consult your choice of backup software). This generally requires a lot of experience but for the inexperienced user, simply store your data in or under your My Documents folder. Do not store your data on your desktop as your desktop is sometimes actually a folder under the Windows operating system. Some programs (not many thankfully) store their data under the "Program Files" folder. Either the Windows folder or the Program Files folder are a little like the engine department of a car that is entirely unsuitable for storage of data where as the My Documents folders (including My Pictures etc) are equivalent to the boot space or trunk of a vehicle.
- If you get infected, rule number one is to disconnect your computer from the network/Internet and do not trade CD's & floppies. Viruses frequently upload your e-mail contacts to servers used for spam. People find themselves surprisingly unpopular when the source of a group infection is traced back to themselves. Careful connection via a file wall can usually be made -- consult an expert.
- To remove an infection. there is a lot of merit in simply reinstalling your operating system from scratch. This removes all trace provided one is careful not to reinstate the virus from the reinstated data directories. This requires quite a lot of expertise and you are advised to get in touch with your IT department or an expert.
Keep your browser security at medium at all times (never at low. High is obviously safer but will prevent some browsing). This varies depending on the browser but for IE5, go to the Tools menu, Internet Options sub menu, Security Tab, Customise button:
This shows sample settings and indicates how to set Medium security.
Last reviewed mid 2009. Most points also apply to Vista.
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