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Basic Virus facts

Posted by Nancy N on 7/19/01 at 16:10 (053747)

Hi guys. Some of you know that I work with computers, and since there is much discussion of virus stuff right now, I thought I would post some basic email-virus facts in case anyone finds it helpful. So here are some things everyone with an email account should know:

1. You are most susceptible to email-virus attacks if you use a PC and use MS Outlook as a mail client. Outlook will automatically open attachments for you, which can be all that's needed to activate the virus, which in many cases will also use your Outlook address book to keep propagating the virus around the Internet. Mail clients like Eudora and Netscape are safer, because they do not include this 'feature.'

2. Macs generally aren't susceptible because they don't read PC executable files (a file that ends in .exe). But there are still Mac viruses, and a lot of them are MS Word macro viruses. If you use a Mac, you should definitely still use anti-virus software.

3. Your anti-virus software is useless if you don't update the virus definition files. Definitions are updated at least a month, sometimes more often depending on which software you're using. As a general rule, your definitions should be no more than three months old, preferably less.

4. You definitely should not open any attachments from anyone you don't know, and should still be suspicious of every attachment you receive. The best way to deal with file attachments is to save them to your hard drive and then scan them for viruses before opening them.

If you use Outlook, I believe there is a way to turn off the automatic feature that opens the attachment for you, but since I do not use Outlook (for this very reason), I am not sure how it is done. If someone on the board knows, I hope they will post it.

On a side note, we all have seen those emails you receive from people telling you that a child is missing, or that you'll receive a check if you forward the message to everyone you know, etc. They are hoaxes, and should not be forwarded. There is, as yet, no way to track email forwarding (and would you really want someone to be able to know who you're sending mail to?), the missing-child messages include little or no information on how to contact the authorities, and the post office is not going to start charging for email. They are all fake--and the giveaway is the line that says 'Send this to everyone you know!' If you have any doubts, it's best to check those messages out before sending them--you can find information on hoaxes at http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/blhoax.htm?rnk=r1&terms=Current+Email+Hoaxes

I hope this is helpful and clears up some confusion. I do not know how Laurie's virus could have sent email to people she didn't have in her address book, though, unless it is using a new method to perpetuate itself.

Re: Basic Virus facts

Cynthia D on 7/20/01 at 19:19 (053854)

Hi, Nancy, sorry we couldn't cross paths in NYC yesterday or today. The only thing my computer tech said differently than what you said was not to download it under any circumstances to your hard drive because that's how it gets into your system and does the damage. The best advice is not to open anything you do not recognize or know to have been sent to you as an attachment.

I got the one on the missing girl, my heart was so heavy, I wanted to do anything to help. I couldn't contact the sender, the 'parent', the authorites and state were no where in site, so I did delete it and felt very sad about doing that. But now that you told us that it's a hoax, I feel better about it.

What's the world coming to?

Re: Basic Virus facts

Nancy N on 7/20/01 at 21:52 (053865)

Cynthia--

Downloading the file without opening it will not put you at risk. A file is not dangerous when it is just sitting on your drive--it's only if you open it that it can become a problem. The reason I suggested this option is because there's often no other way to scan the file to see if it's safe--it depends on the anti-virus software. I don't think most of them will scan an attachment until you download it (or are in the process of downloading it). So if you want to scan it, you will probably need to download it first. Or you can just opt not to open any attachments, ever, but then you might miss some good stuff.

But unless someone has developed a self-executing virus that can run without you doing something to activate it, you should be OK downloading an attachment and then scanning it. Just be sure you don't open it in the process! Opening the file is the real danger. You might want to create a specific folder for email attachments and keep everything in there so that you can find anything you need to delete. And if you do delete an infected attachment, be sure to empty your recycle bin immediately, to be sure you've gotten rid of it.

Re: Basic Virus facts

Cynthia D on 7/20/01 at 22:08 (053867)

Oh, so just downloading it directly is ok? I would be scared to death to do this anyway. It makes sense that it would be activated by opening it up. Poor Dr. Z, someone wants his opinion all the time. I myself was leary, because who would want my medical opinion? Another clue for me was that this email, while trying to appear like a normal email, came into my 'bulk mail' file, which is rarely used, and usually just by companies trying to sell something, so I was very leary getting a 'personal' email in my bulk mail folder. Thanks for clearing this up.

Re: Basic Virus facts

Julie on 7/21/01 at 02:47 (053894)

Nancy, thank you VERY much for all the helpful information you've given us in this and your other posts about attachments.

Re: Basic Virus facts

Nancy N on 7/21/01 at 08:37 (053899)

Cynthia--

Yeah, downloading it directly should be OK. Sort of like having a hand grenade in your pocket--as long as you haven't pulled the pin out, you're OK. But along that line, you still treat it very carefully.

I actually hesitate a little to just say 'sure, download everything' because it does, to some extent, depend on your email software. If you are using Outlook or Exchange, I recommend taking a look in the online help (or getting in touch with someone who's familiar with those programs, which I am not) and turning off any options that have to do with opening attachments automatically. That 'feature' is what is really going to get you in trouble--it's what allows things like the Melissa virus and the Love Bug virus to propagate. If Outlook didn't do that, those viruses would have gone nowhere.

It's also a little dicey because these folks who write the virus code are becoming more devious all the time--so while I would still consider it safe to save the attachment, and then scan it, that may not always be the case. So another important point is to pay attention to the news you hear about problem viruses so that you know best how to protect yourself. McAfee.com and Symantec.com both have very good sites that post the latest news, and are the best source of information if you hear about a virus, be it real or imagined (always check those emailed virus warnings on those sites before passing them along--most of the time, they're fake).

And also--the best (and easiest) way to protect yourself against ANY computer problem--virus, hard drive crash, etc--is to back up your files on a regular basis. That way, if disaster strikes, you haven't lost the things you need--especially important if you have financial records, photos of your kids, the novel you're writing,or whatever else that's important to you sitting on your hard drive.

But regardless, Cynthia, you win the points for guessing that it was a virus file before opening it . Even with all the viruses I've seen at work, and even though I couldn't figure out why Dr. Z would want my advice on anything (and why his wording was so odd), I still tried to open the file. Didn't even think twice about it. Fortunately, I was using a webmail client at work and don't use Outlook, so it didn't go any further than my own computer, where my virus software caught it. They do get more and more clever, knowing how gullible most of us are--even those of us who should know better (if that's not a good argument for regular backups, I don't know what is!) :)

Re: Basic Virus facts

Cynthia D on 7/20/01 at 19:19 (053854)

Hi, Nancy, sorry we couldn't cross paths in NYC yesterday or today. The only thing my computer tech said differently than what you said was not to download it under any circumstances to your hard drive because that's how it gets into your system and does the damage. The best advice is not to open anything you do not recognize or know to have been sent to you as an attachment.

I got the one on the missing girl, my heart was so heavy, I wanted to do anything to help. I couldn't contact the sender, the 'parent', the authorites and state were no where in site, so I did delete it and felt very sad about doing that. But now that you told us that it's a hoax, I feel better about it.

What's the world coming to?

Re: Basic Virus facts

Nancy N on 7/20/01 at 21:52 (053865)

Cynthia--

Downloading the file without opening it will not put you at risk. A file is not dangerous when it is just sitting on your drive--it's only if you open it that it can become a problem. The reason I suggested this option is because there's often no other way to scan the file to see if it's safe--it depends on the anti-virus software. I don't think most of them will scan an attachment until you download it (or are in the process of downloading it). So if you want to scan it, you will probably need to download it first. Or you can just opt not to open any attachments, ever, but then you might miss some good stuff.

But unless someone has developed a self-executing virus that can run without you doing something to activate it, you should be OK downloading an attachment and then scanning it. Just be sure you don't open it in the process! Opening the file is the real danger. You might want to create a specific folder for email attachments and keep everything in there so that you can find anything you need to delete. And if you do delete an infected attachment, be sure to empty your recycle bin immediately, to be sure you've gotten rid of it.

Re: Basic Virus facts

Cynthia D on 7/20/01 at 22:08 (053867)

Oh, so just downloading it directly is ok? I would be scared to death to do this anyway. It makes sense that it would be activated by opening it up. Poor Dr. Z, someone wants his opinion all the time. I myself was leary, because who would want my medical opinion? Another clue for me was that this email, while trying to appear like a normal email, came into my 'bulk mail' file, which is rarely used, and usually just by companies trying to sell something, so I was very leary getting a 'personal' email in my bulk mail folder. Thanks for clearing this up.

Re: Basic Virus facts

Julie on 7/21/01 at 02:47 (053894)

Nancy, thank you VERY much for all the helpful information you've given us in this and your other posts about attachments.

Re: Basic Virus facts

Nancy N on 7/21/01 at 08:37 (053899)

Cynthia--

Yeah, downloading it directly should be OK. Sort of like having a hand grenade in your pocket--as long as you haven't pulled the pin out, you're OK. But along that line, you still treat it very carefully.

I actually hesitate a little to just say 'sure, download everything' because it does, to some extent, depend on your email software. If you are using Outlook or Exchange, I recommend taking a look in the online help (or getting in touch with someone who's familiar with those programs, which I am not) and turning off any options that have to do with opening attachments automatically. That 'feature' is what is really going to get you in trouble--it's what allows things like the Melissa virus and the Love Bug virus to propagate. If Outlook didn't do that, those viruses would have gone nowhere.

It's also a little dicey because these folks who write the virus code are becoming more devious all the time--so while I would still consider it safe to save the attachment, and then scan it, that may not always be the case. So another important point is to pay attention to the news you hear about problem viruses so that you know best how to protect yourself. McAfee.com and Symantec.com both have very good sites that post the latest news, and are the best source of information if you hear about a virus, be it real or imagined (always check those emailed virus warnings on those sites before passing them along--most of the time, they're fake).

And also--the best (and easiest) way to protect yourself against ANY computer problem--virus, hard drive crash, etc--is to back up your files on a regular basis. That way, if disaster strikes, you haven't lost the things you need--especially important if you have financial records, photos of your kids, the novel you're writing,or whatever else that's important to you sitting on your hard drive.

But regardless, Cynthia, you win the points for guessing that it was a virus file before opening it . Even with all the viruses I've seen at work, and even though I couldn't figure out why Dr. Z would want my advice on anything (and why his wording was so odd), I still tried to open the file. Didn't even think twice about it. Fortunately, I was using a webmail client at work and don't use Outlook, so it didn't go any further than my own computer, where my virus software caught it. They do get more and more clever, knowing how gullible most of us are--even those of us who should know better (if that's not a good argument for regular backups, I don't know what is!) :)