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P1 Tech Help: Beating computer viruses

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The sixth edition of Barron’s Dictionary of Computer and Internet Terms defines a computer virus as a computer program that automatically copies itself, thereby “infecting” other disks or programs without the user knowing it and then disrupts the operation of the computer.

A computer hard drive executes processes; a virus disrupts these processes and functions by overloading the computer processes. The virus instructs the hard drive to execute many processes at the same time or out of order instead of the usual sequential order. Some viruses have been known to actually make a hard drive emit smoke.

A virus can be introduced almost any software (referred to as malware) or even Microsoft Word documents via ‘Trojan horse’ or ‘computer worm.’ Once downloaded into your computer system, it can lay dormant as long as the writer dictates in the creation of the malware’s code. It can even start its desired effect after several on/off cycles or other function is executed. One of the most common methods a virus causes disruption is by collecting email addresses or other contact information from your computer’s address book, and then replicating and sending itself to the addresses it has collected.

One of the ways to combat the ever-growing group of Trojan horses and viruses is by installing antivirus software. Barron’s defines antivirus software as software that protects a computer from viruses, either by blocking the modification the virus tries to make or by detecting the virus as soon as it enters the computer. It’s illegal to knowingly distribute destructive computer program under common law but as you may well know it is a very hard crime to enforce.

There is a growing list of companies making antivirus software available (some of which is offered for free) but the two major antivirus software developers is McAfee and Norton developed by Symantics. Either of these two programs performs their functions well and offer constant updates.

This antivirus software can be scheduled to scan your computer at certain times or can be used to scan other storage media such as: floppy disks, CD’s, external hard drives, or flash drives. You can even let the antivirus software run in the back ground where it will constantly check your computer as you work.

Because of the proliferation of viruses, many computer companies are now bundling antivirus software with their machines.

Even with the proliferation of effective antivirus solutions, there is one very important carbon-based (human) fix you can use every day: be wary of forwarded emails from friends, family, or familiar-looking addresses. Many times these are viruses that have replicated and sent themselves to the addresses collected from their contact files. If you open the infected email, you start the virus’ cycle all over again. So, if you have antivirus software in your computer and haven’t used it or researched it, open the help file and learn how to use it. A very handy method for stopping virus from infecting your computer (or that of your friends/colleagues) may already be in your computer.  And don’t forget: the antivirus prevention capability stored between your ears is invaluable. 

Stay safe and have a great Thanksgiving.

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