One of the saddest things in the entire world is hearing the words, “I think
I’ve been hit by a virus” or “my computer was destroyed by a virus, can you
help me please?”
Every time I hear these words I want to cry – well, actually I want to
scream in frustration and a little bit of anger. You see, it’s not hard to
protect your system from destruction by any one of the fifty thousand or
more viruses out in the wild. In fact, it’s so simple that it’s pitiful that
anyone gets caught “with their pants down” more than once in his or her
By this time it’s inconceivable that anyone with any contact with
civilization is ignorant of viruses and their destructive potential. A few
years ago you could claim ignorance (what’s a virus?) but no longer. In
these years after “I love you” and “Melissa”, well, virus attacks appear on
the 6 o’clock news at least once a week and in the newspaper just as often.
That’s one of the reasons why I groan when I hear that someone has lost
their system to a virus attack. They cannot claim that they didn’t know or
didn’t understand. In addition, protection is so simple and cheap that no
one can use the excuse of “it’s too expensive” or “it’s too difficult”.
Sorry, that just does not hold water.
Look at it this way – if someone is surfing the internet they must be paying
for a connection (say twenty dollars a month) and they have to have a
computer (perhaps a thousand dollars). It’s hard to accept that they cannot
afford another thirty or fifty bucks for virus protection (in fact, many new
computers come with an antivirus program pre-installed).
All right, preaching aside, what’s the best way to protect your system from
virus attacks? To begin with, assume that you or someone who uses your
computer might make a mistake and plan for the worst. In other words, make
the assumption that if a virus is received, it will be executed, so make
sure the things are removed or rendered harmless before you see them.
Define and follow a good backup plan – First and foremost, figure out how
you are going to back up your data. Didn’t expect me to say that, did you?
You have to understand that no virus protection system is perfect. If a
virus does get through somehow, then you must be prepared to restore your
data and files from a backup.
It does not matter if you hand copy your critical files to a floppy disk
every night or if you have the most advanced optical or tape backup system
available. If nothing else, get a cheap ZIP drive plug it in and use the
backup software that comes with it (you can get this setup for around a
Don’t even think twice about this – if you don’t have a backup solution then
get one, now. If you are not keeping a backup then you are living on
borrowed time (this also protects you from system failures, hackers and
other dangers as well). ALL good security plans begin and end with the
backup and restore strategy.
Choose, install and maintain an antivirus solution – Personally, I really
like the Norton Antivirus program. I’ve installed it in our office and in my
home, and I have not yet found a better program anywhere.
There is far more to an antivirus program than just checking for viruses.
All of them do that. What Norton does that’s different is very important –
it also scans incoming emails for viruses so they are removed even before
you open the message.
Schedule virus updates at least once a week – More importantly, you can
schedule virus updates to occur at regular (weekly) intervals. This is
extremely important. Your virus definitions MUST BE UPDATED AT LEAST ONCE A
WEEK. Otherwise, your protection slowly loses it’s power to protect your
system. This is almost as bad as not having any protection at all – because
you think you are protected and you are not.
Scan your hard drive as often as possible – Use your virus scanning program
to scan your hard drive for viruses on a regular basis. I’ve scheduled mine
to scan every night while I sleep (the computer is not doing much else at
that time, after all). This way any viruses that do slip through your
defenses should be caught.
If you run Outlook, then download and install the Outlook Security patch
(unless for some reason you want to use email scripting, which you probably
only need if you are a developer). This will prevent you or anyone on your
computer from accidentally opening an attachment which is actually a virus.
Install ZoneAlarm Pro – Not only is ZoneAlarm Pro an excellent firewall, it
is also a virus scanner. It actually scans files as they arrive on your
system and tags suspected viruses with a special file type. This will
prevent you from accidentally opening an email attachment that is a virus.
Subscribe to several newsletters about viruses – It’s important to become
aware of viruses and the associated problems and risks. My recommendation is
to subscribe to the following newsletters. They are all free and even a
quick glance at each one will help you become more aware of what’s going on.
Symantec AntiVirus Research Center Newsletter
Trend Micro Virus Alerts
Backing Up Your stuff – Part 1
Backup may seem to be a pain, but it’s one of the most important things that
you can do to protect your system.
Backing up your system is an essential part of your security scheme
Backups are extremely critical to keep your system secure. If your system is
damaged by a virus or an intruder you have a way to recover. Remember,
however, that you must think through and test your scheme.
Products – Norton Antivirus
You need antivirus protection for your computer. Norton Antivirus is by far
and away the best solution for the desktop.
Products – ZoneAlarm Pro
ZoneAlarm Pro is quite possibly the best firewall product for personal home
use that currently exists. Highly recommended.
The most important thing you can do to protect your system is install a
virus checker (also known as an anti-virus program). These programs will
scan your system for viruses and Trojan horses and delete or repair them.
There are several products including those by McAfee and Norton (Symantec).