Whilst not a scam in the strictest sense, there's still a strong element of the con about the way a virus is installed on your computer. The damage they can do is huge, clogging networks, destroying files and costing millions of pounds to repair and eliminate. However, there are ways you can make sure you're not a virus victim.
What Viruses Are And How They WorkThe term virus actually isn't quite accurate, as it's usually extended to worms and Trojans, too. A virus can only spread from one computer to another when its host is taken to the uninfected computer - often as an e-mail attachment. When opened it infects your machine - the damage it does depends on what has been sent. A virus will use your e-mail address book to send copies of itself to everyone with whom you correspond. These will seem to be from you (just as you might have received the virus as an attachment from someone you know), without you even being aware they were sent.
Once a virus is running on your computer, it begins to infect programmes on your hard drive. Depending on the virus, it can erase all files with .doc extensions, for example (those are the documents you've created in Word), or other files. A worm replicates through computer networks, exploiting holes in security. They can slow traffic to a halt and be programmed to mount a mass attack on a certain site at a certain time. A Trojan (named for the Trojan horse) looks innocent, but contains malicious software than can do anything from deleting files to changing your desktop or leaving your computer open to hackers.
How To Protect Yourself From VirusesIt's simple to say don't open e-mail attachments from people you don't know, and be very wary even of attachments from people you do know. But in today's business world that's not always feasible. The following steps will keep you safer:
- Install a good, proven antivirus programme, and make sure you scan and update regularly (that's as vital as even having antivirus protection). McAfee and Norton are among the leading vendors, whilst AVG offers a good free version.
- Use a firewall. It won't keep out e-mail viruses, but it can stop them spreading. Windows XP has a firewall already installed, but there are many you can use, whether to purchase or download free.
- Backup your work regularly. That means not just onto your hard drive, but a outside medium like CD or an external hard drive. In the event of your computer being infected you won't lose everything.
- Learn how to use the spam filter of your e-mail programme. Again, it won't entirely eliminate the possibility of viruses, but it cuts down on the number that might get through. Programmes like Mailwasher allow you to preview your mail before downloading it to your computer.
- Educate yourself about attachments. If you receive an e-mail from someone you trust with an unexpected attachment, query them before opening the it.
- Make sure you update all the security patches for your computer's operating system (Windows XP, for example).
What To Do If You Think your Computer Has Been InfectedIf your computer begins behaving erratically (at a very slow speed, for instance) or files seem to have disappeared, then you probably have a virus. But don't panic!
- Backup all important data onto CD, floppy or an external hard drive.
- Close your e-mail programme, open your anti-virus and update it. Then run a full scan.
- Your software should be able to identify the virus and in most cases quarantine and then delete it.
- In the case of infections that your antivirus software can't delete, make a note of their full names, including directories (where they're located on your computer) and extension names. If you're experienced and confident, you can try going in and deleting them manually. If not, take it to a professional who will be able to resolve the problem.