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Practicing Safe Computing

The only sure-fire way to avoid the threat of computer viruses is to never use the Internet, never share diskettes, and never install a new piece of software on your PC. You can, however, be proactive in reducing the chance of downloading a virus from the Internet, by following these words of advice:

  • Don’t open e-mail attachments from people you don’t know. If you get an unsolicited e-mail message from someone you’ve never heard of before, and that message includes an attachment (a Word document, or an executable program), don’t open the attachment! The attached Word file could contain a macro virus, and the attached program could wipe out your entire hard disk!


    Virus files can only infect your computer when they’re run, typically when you click or double-click them from within the e-mail message to which they’re attached. They do no harm until they’re run, which means receiving a virus-carrying e-mail message in your inbox is completely safe—unless and until you open the attachment.

  • Don’t run any executable programs attached to e-mail messages. This is an extension of the previous item. It’s good practice to never run any e-mail attachments that have the following file extensions: .EXE, .COM, .BAT, .VBS, or .PIF.


    Some e-mail programs can be configured to not show file extensions. Some virus creators take advantage of this by including “.TXT” or “.DOC” within the name of the virus file. If the actual .VBS or .EXE file extension is hidden by your e-mail program, you can be tricked into thinking that you’re opening a text or Word file, when you’re actually running an executable program or script.

  • Don’t execute programs you find in Usenet newsgroups. Newsgroup postings often contain attachments of various types; executing a program “blind” from an anonymous newsgroup poster is just asking for trouble.

  • Don’t accept files from people in chat rooms. Chat rooms are another big source of virus infection; some users like to send pictures and other files back and forth, and it’s relatively easy to sneak a virus file into the flow.

  • Download programs only from reliable sources. If you’re connecting to a non-commercial Web site run out of some guy’s basement, avoid the temptation to download any files from that site. If you must download files from the Internet, use only those established and reliable Web sites (such as Download.com, Tucows, or the ZDNet Software Library) that actually check their files for viruses before they post them for downloading.

  • Use anti-virus software. Anti-virus programs protect you against all types of viruses— including both executable and macro viruses. Purchase, install, and run a program such as Norton AntiVirus or McAfee VirusScan—and let the anti-virus program check all new files downloaded to or copied to your system.



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