Taming those nasty computer viruses

The virus problem seems to stay with us. Everyday we hear about new and possibly destructive viruses. How do we protect ourselves?

The accepted method is to install a virus protection program on our computers.

Virus protection programs come in many shapes and flavors, though primarily there are two major suppliers, Norton and McAfee. But buying and using these programs can be confusing.

Virus protection programs operate by having an "engine," or the program that makes it work, and "data" or "definition" files that contain information about past and current viruses. We may purchase the engine in a box from a store. The box contains a compact disk that contains the engine and a virus definition file. Inserting the compact disk in our computer installs the program and starts to offer us protection.

However, the virus definition file probably is out of date. To offer the most current protection the definition file must be UPDATED even though the program is new. Updating the virus data or definition file is accomplished over the Internet. The program may have an automatic updating service that notifies you when new updates are available, or you may have to visit the manufacturer's web site periodically to check for updates.

In any case, you should check for updates because they contain the most up to date information about new viruses.

Incidentally, the very newest viruses may not yet be in the latest update since many new viruses are ahead of the virus protection people. So still be careful about opening email attachments or doing specific things that are affected by the new virus.

Continuing with data or definition files, most manufacturers allow you to update your files only for a specified time. After that you must UPGRADE your virus protection program to the latest version. This means going back to the store or purchasing an upgrade over the Internet. Then the clock starts over and you can update your protection files until it is again time to upgrade.

A while back I subscribed to the McAfee Clinic. This is a service that allows me to UPGRADE to the latest McAfee virus protection program as well as obtain UPDATES of the virus data files completely over the Internet for a period of one year. The current cost is $29.95. I like this because I pay once a year and do not have to worry about the latest upgrades and updates. I get periodic messages on the Web and just follow the instructions. I seem to receive a couple of upgrades of the program each year as well as almost weekly updates of the definition files.

One word of caution; if you plan on changing manufacturers of your virus protection program be very careful to UNINSTALL the current program before installing the new program. The old virus protection program may think the new one is a virus and "eat" it and cause funny things to happen to your computer. This once happened to me and it was a mess! Also, when upgrading programs, check the instructions to see if you must uninstall the old program before installing the upgrade.

Virus protection programs can be confusing. Just remember that you must UPDATE your data or definition files to keep your protection current. You may also have to UPGRADE every so often when your update service runs out. Read the instructions that come with your program and enjoy reasonable protection.

If you would like to hear more about virus protection programs, 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.


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: 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:

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