Computer viruses are costing businesses millions of dollars each year and the problem is getting worse. According to the CERT Coordination Center, a federally-funded research center that monitors internet security, incidents such as viruses increased by more than 400% from 1999-2001. This number is expected to double within the next year. More and more businesses are suffering the effects of computer viruses; crashed systems, confidential data sharing, and lost data. With the increasing popularity of always-on internet connections like cable modems and DSL, viruses are able to spread more quickly and will be a growing problem for the foreseeable future.
The good news from the CERT Coordination Center is that more than 95% of security problems result from exploitation of known vulnerabilities or configuration errors. In plain English, this means that they can be prevented.
The first (and most necessary) step in protecting your computer from viruses is to install anti-virus software. There are many versions of software available at reasonable prices from companies such as Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro. Each of these programs can be purchased for less than $50 from most computer software retailers. While any of the major software packages will give you virus protection, my personal recommendation is Norton AntiVirus from Symantec because of it’s ease of installation and use.
When installing anti-virus software, keep the following tips in mind:
- Set up the system to automatically download up-to-date virus lists and definitions.
- Scan your computer system for viruses on a regular basis. It is recommended that you scan your system at least every other week.
- Be sure to configure the software to scan all incoming email. Email is the most common source of virus transmission.
There are other actions you can take to protect yourself from viruses:
- Don’t open attachments unless you know what they contain. Many viruses now forge their return address, so an attached file from a friend is not necessarily safe. If you were not expecting a file from someone, email them to ask if they sent the file intentionally. Viruses can run in word processing documents, spreadsheets and many other kinds of “safe” files, so this warning applies to all email attachments.
- Make regular backups of all your important files! If you do get infected with a harmful virus, you may lose data files, and a current backup will be your only chance to save your data.
- Carefully read any messages that pop up while using your internet browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera). Some browsers allow web sites to install programs on your computer, so set your browser security levels high and refuse any requests to install software.
- Be aware of the operation of your computer. If you see odd behavior occuring, be sure to do a virus scan immediately.
There is a lot of good information about viruses and protection available on the internet. Symantec provides a free system scan and a good listing of existing viruses and hoaxes - search their database when friends send you emails warning you about the latest virus threats. The CERT Coordination Center provides regular email updates and tips for home users. Their web addresses are listed at the end of this article.
Failure to protect yourself from computer viruses can cause your company to lose data, money, and even customers. In this new connected world, virus protection is a necessity, not a luxury. Take steps to protect yourself today. If you have trouble getting anti-virus software installed, or have questions, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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