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Aaaaarrrgh!

Computers are a dream ... until they're infected with a virus

Computers are a dream ... until they're infected with a virus

June 20, 2006|by NABELA ENAM

Living in the 21st century, it is difficult to imagine a life without computers. We use them to talk to friends, catch up on the news, listen to music, watch movies and so much more.

Computers make our lives easy, but they have to be properly maintained. Like humans, computers get infected - though not in the biological sense.

My friend Sandra Maina experienced a computer virus.

"On my computer all the programs were deleted and my computer crashed," she said. "I needed my mom's assistance to help me reinstall all the programs. This was a pain to do and took a couple of days to retrieve my files and programs."

Computers are often attacked by harmful software, also known as malware. The Brain virus appeared in 1986 and spread throughout the world by 1987. Viruses became more sophisticated in the 1990s. In 1999, the Melissa macro virus disabled e-mail servers around the world for hours, and even days in some cases. In the end, it cost corporations millions of dollars due to lost productivity. In May 2000, the ILOVEYOU virus had an even greater effect than the Melissa macro virus with losses estimated at $10 billion dollars.

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Unlike biological viruses, computer viruses are created by humans, except those that have been replicated. Some people create viruses to play pranks, attack certain companies, or to steal identities and personal information. Some computer nerds even view their ability to create computer viruses as a creative hobby.

The three most common types of malware are viruses, worms and Trojan horses. Computer viruses are manmade programs that duplicate and spread from computer to computer. Some might simply be an annoyance, while others can do serious damage. They can delete information, change files, send documents through e-mail, or even destroy the computer's operating system.

Worms, like viruses, are self-replicating, but usually affect networks. They can slow down data transmission with their self replicating process.

Trojan horse is a term that originates from the myth in which the Greeks sneaked into the walled city of Troy by hiding in a large, hollow, wooden horse.

A Trojan horse program pretends to do one thing, while actually harming the computer by erasing data, corrupting files, and installing programs that allow hackers to steal valuable information.

The number of ways a virus can infect a computer is astounding. It may arrive on a floppy disk, through e-mail, or on files downloaded from the internet, such as music and movies. Viruses known as "blend threats" can spread through several mechanisms at a time. In past years, even if a virus were present on a computer it would not be able to infect the computer unless the user was tricked into running the virus as a regular program. However, in present day, by simply connecting to the Internet a user runs the risk of infection.

Knowing the enemy and its power is important. However, one needs to be proactive to prevent the infection. A virus may be prevented if users obtain software from reliable sources. However, the best action one can take to prevent infection would be to install a current antivirus software program. Backing up the operating system and keeping copies of important software and data files should be done routinely.

Once a virus has been detected, it should be contained by immediately stopping the exchange of files and using only write-protected disks. For a computer to recover from a virus attack, the virus must be eliminated, but not all antivirus software can perform this act. An effective way to eliminate infection is to turn off the computer, then restart it from write-protected software. Following that, the infected files should be deleted and replaced with files from backup disks.

I interviewed Saqib Saif who has expertise in hardware and software consultation and system integration and is the proprietor of Saif Support Services. Saif recommended the following to protect oneself from computer viruses:

a. Invest in a good reputable anti-virus software and keep it updated (new viruses are created regularly). Its cost will be far less than the cost of removing viruses or having to replace your computing resources.

b. Make use of pop-up blockers on your web browser.

c. If you get e-mail from someone you don't know, delete it without opening it.

d. Always keep your operating system updated using the online links to your software manufacturer.

Releasing viruses is a crime. But some people find humor in others' suffering. Therefore, in order to avoid virus infection, computer users should try and prevent the attack before it causes harm. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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