first thing Monday morning and you’re sleepily checking your e-mail. You see a
message from an unidentified party entitled, “Open: Very Cool :-)“ Not thinking
much of it, you click it open and read the following words, “Please pass this
information along quickly to all you know.”
and taking a sip of coffee, you delete it. But your problems are just
beginning. The message was really a virus. It will destroy your memory, sound
card, speakers and hard drive, infect your mouse, and disable your keyboard. It
self-terminates only after it eats 5 MB
of hard drive space, deleting all programs.
this happened to you? Hopefully not. Chances are this threat and many more that
circulate on the Internet, in the public media and by word of mouth are
inconsequential. More then 20,000 viruses have been catalogued, but most are
poorly written and of minimal concern. In fact, only about 100 viruses are
reported to be responsible for most computer infections. Distinguishing facts
from myths can put you on the road to greater confidence managing your valuable
computer-based data systems.
What Is a Virus?
computer virus is code — a program — that can be recognized and run by your
computer, causing the code to reproduce. Just like a virus in a human, the
computer virus may be innocuous, bothersome or deadly. Yet in all cases, the
virus occupies precious computer memory space. Just cycling through the
program, no matter how ineffective it may be, could impair the functions of
your legitimate applications.
Michelangelo and the
viruses have been around for some time, but it took a threat to corporate
environments to catch the attention of the news media. Members of the media,
seeking anyone who could distinguish a bit from a byte and string together two
coherent sentences, set the stage for the following events to unfold:
March 6, 1992, the 5 17th birthday of
artist Michelangelo, media sources reported a virus known as Michelangelo that
would allegedly infect more than 5 million
computers worldwide. Two months of media hype and panicked hysteria as the day
approached affected world financial markets, corporate strategic agendas and
the careers of a large number of computer industry experts.
the alleged virus was a dud. It affected fewer hard drives than the number that
might fail on any given day. Nevertheless, other damage was done. First, the
public concluded the peril of computer viruses did not exist. Second,
misinformation from self-serving antivirus publishers implied that publicly
available and free shareware programs were part of the problem and not the
and ignorance have combined to create a vibrant industry of myth, legend and
hoaxes. But, if you know the facts, you will be in a better position to respond
effectively. Familiarize yourself with the following, a few of these
falsehoods, myths and misconceptions.
can be transmitted via a data file, e-mail or Web page.
Fact: Data files cannot carry viruses because such files carry data, not
programs. Only an executable program file can carry a virus. But there is a
catch. What you believe to be just a data file may include some legitimate
executable code, and this code could be infected.
example, a Microsoft Word document contains only word processing data, so it
could not be infected. But a Word template file contains a small program known
as a “macro,” that could be infected. Similarly, a simple e-mail message is
just data, but an email message that includes a Word template file could carry
a virus in that file.
Don’t your Web
browser or e-mail application to launch Word automatically when it encounters a
document. Open the application first, then read the file. This will minimize
the chance of infection from a virus intended to infect the boot sector
(start-up program) of your Word application.
can escape detection by antivirus software.
experience, viruses can usually be detected with properly designed — and
used — virus scanning software. While perhaps not visible to the naked
eye of someone viewing a directory, all known virus programs have a
signature that can be differentiated from legitimate code.
Myth: Backups are useless if you back up the virus along with
can restore important data without restoring the infected program. You
will have to remove the infected files, and you probably will have to
reinstall computer applications from your original software source. This
can be time consuming and tedious, but it is possible.
Myth: Shareware, public bulletin boards and the Internet
are the source of most viruses.
usually is not the case. New shrink-wrapped software applications are a
major source of viruses. Often,
new applications instruct users to turn off virus protection software
before installing. Follow those instructions, but also check the software
for virus infection after installing. Remember, mere connection to a
bulletin board or the Internet cannot transmit a virus. You transmit a
file to your computer only by choosing to.
makers write viruses to stay in business.
don’t need to. Legions of people have the skills and are happy to use
them. Contrary to popular belief, virus creators are not limited to bored
teenage hackers. They include professional business people, military
personnel and academics.
Think Before You Click
next time you get a message about a virus, be prepared. Use antivirus software,
and take the precautions suggested.
more on the dangers of business technology, as well as its advantages, please
contact us. We can help your company save money by arming it with the knowledge
necessary to avoid viruses and the damage they can cause.