FROM THE TUSTIN NEWS, THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2003


THE DOC IS IN...

How to protect yourself from Blaster and LovSan viruses

Blaster and LovSan computer viruses have been in the news lately. What are they and how do we protect ourselves from them and others like them?

Probably the writers of these viruses never will be found. They have written pieces of computer code that exploit flaws in Microsoft's latest operating systems; Windows XP, 2000 and NT. Fortunately there has been enough publicity that these viruses have affected fewer than 500,000 computers worldwide.

Computer viruses are not new. Most are benign and just nuisances. Many are written to find flaws in various programs and serve to make these programs better by pointing out problems and then allowing fixes. Many of these viruses get into corporate computers and seldom bother us at home.

Most viruses are propagated via email messages and appear on our computers as attachments. Clicking on these attachments cause the virus to execute. Recent viruses are in the form of "worms" that borrow into our computers and reproduce themselves. Many send copies of themselves to everyone in our email address books. Thus in a few minutes hundreds or hundreds of thousands of computers can become infected.

We can protect ourselves in a number of important ways. Of course, the first way is not to open attachments to emails unless we know exactly their origin. JPG and GIF picture attachments so far are no danger. However, almost any other ending is suspect. I simply don't open anything but picture attachments.

Next, we should "update" our virus protection programs. Many people install a virus protection program and think they are protected. These programs depend upon so called DAT or virus signature files. Since new viruses appear almost every day, new DAT files must be downloaded continuously from the Internet. All virus protection companies of which I am aware provide links to their own Internet sites and make updates available as soon as they are produced. Many programs do this automatically. Others ask you to check from time to time. It is imperative to do this or you will not have up to date protection. Simply follow their directions and you will update your virus protection.

For some viruses, Microsoft offers "patches" or "fixes" for their programs that can be downloaded from their web site (support.microsoft.com). They posted patches for the LovSan and MSBlast viruses on July 16 but few people downloaded them. This was a mistake since these patches would have fixed the flaw and made the virus ineffective. On most Windows XP computers, a small "popup" window will appear with the message, "critical update available." Definitely click and follow the links until the updates show on your screen. Read the information and download anything that states it is a "security" fix. Follow the directions and you will be updated. Some Microsoft updates say they fix something not installed on your computer and can be ignored. But be sure to download security fixes.

If you are not sure what Microsoft updates are available, go to support.microsoft.com and click on Downloads. Then let Microsoft scan your computer for current updates. This works for any Microsoft Windows operating systems from 95 to XP. Choose appropriate updates and let them install.

If for some reason you still get a virus on your computer, most cures are listed on the Internet and can be found using www.google.com. Some cures are complicated and might require a visit to Con at Universal Computer in Tustin (2124 N. Tustin Ave, 714.564.1686) or other computer professionals.

If you follow these few simple steps you can protect yourselves from most viruses.

If you would like to hear more about viruses and worms or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.

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Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: www.arholub.com. This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at: doc@arholub.com.


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