FROM THE TUSTIN NEWS, THURSDAY, JULY 22, 2004


THE DOC IS IN...

Why do we still get computer viruses?

Protecting computers from outside attacks seems to be a never-ending concern. So much has been written about viruses and other events that you would think no one would have any problems anymore. But problems still persist.

Most of us have virus protection programs on our computers, but some people still get viruses. Why? Because there are misconceptions about these programs. A virus protection program will not protect against viruses unless it is updated. If we install the program ourselves, its protection is only up to date on the day the program was created in the factory. We must go to the Internet and retrieve the current virus signature files that are as up to date as the manufacturer can make them. Even this may not protect us from the very latest viruses, but it is a start.

Next, we must scan our computer for viruses. Having the latest update does no good unless we then run a complete scan of our system. This takes time and it is a good idea to run it at night or when you can do other things for an hour or so as the scan runs. And scan each time a new update is added.

If virus protection is done by your Internet service provider, it is only as good as what they scan. This may only be email. You still may want a separate virus protection program on your computer.

Most viruses still come in the form of email attachments. If you make it a rule not to open attachments except pictures, this is your first line of defense. A recent scan of my system showed up 31 "quarantined" possible viruses. They all were identified as coming in attachments to emails. I did not open any of these but my virus protection program caught them anyway and placed them in quarantine. I deleted them all.

Another entry into our computers comes from our Internet connection, whether dialup or high speed. Of course, the computer must be turned on to be vulnerable. Since all our computers have an address when we are connected to the Internet, it is possible for a hacker using a random address scan to find our machine. Then they can try to enter and either try to gain access to our files or do damage.

The line of protection from outside entry is a firewall. Simply, this is a program that only allows those on the Internet to enter our machines that we have invited. You ask www.cnn.com to display a web page and only www.cnn.com is allowed access. Everyone else is blocked.

It is a good idea to use a firewall on any machine connected to the Internet. Windows XP has a build in firewall found in Control Panel>Network Connections. See Help for specific instructions. In Windows XP the default value is OFF. If you want the Windows XP firewall, you must turn it ON. Rumor has it that the coming Windows XP Service Pack II will have the firewall ON by default and you must turn if OFF if it is not needed.

An excellent free firewall can be found at www.zonelabs.com. This is a very popular firewall.

If you have a network with a router, the router probably has a built in firewall. Usually this requires that you turn off any firewalls in the computers. In most cases, the computer firewall interferes with the router firewall.

The next line of defense is updating the operating system with the latest "patches." Since over ninety percent of the world uses Microsoft Windows, we all are aware of their security problems. So are they and they continually make available updates. It is important to download and install these security updates. I have my Windows XP machine automatically download updates but then ask me if I want to install them. I set this option using Control Panel>System>Automatic Updates. You also can check at support.microsoft.com and click on Downloads. I install all Critical Updates but skip most of the non-critical ones. Incidentally, some updates require restarting the computer before they take affect.

Lastly, we all have heard too much about "spyware." These are programs that secretly come along with some downloads and surreptitiously send back information about our habits or even our keystrokes. They are not viruses. They are separate programs to "spy" on us.

Probably the most popular antispyware program is "Ad-aware" that is free from www.lavasoftusa.com. The free version does not stop spyware from being downloaded. You must periodically scan your system to remove any active spyware. Another good program is "Spybot." Search Google for Spybot to get the download site.

We have examined the four major types of outside attacks and how they can be thwarted. How much of this you do depends upon your level of paranoia. Of course none of this will keep computers safe from someone inside who sits at your keyboard to gain entry. This is a whole other topic.

If you would like to hear more about computer protection 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.  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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