12 tips to keep your
These simple steps can hold off most computer bugs. If one does
slip through, they'll also help you survive the infection without losing
time, money, clients or your sanity.
Keep installation copies of all of your
software where you can access it quickly, preferably with the backup
copies of your data files.
2. Install and regularly update anti-virus
software. New viruses appear every day and old anti-virus software is as
useful as a flat spare tire. You are buying a subscription with the
software manufacturer. Use it. If you share the computer or are on a
network, make sure others are using the anti-virus software, too.
3. Set up a personal firewall and understand how
it works. This is a relatively cheap way to protect your network, data
and customer information. You often can buy a firewall with your
anti-virus software. It's especially important if you have a laptop,
cable modem, DSL connection or spend a lot of time on the Internet.
4. Implement a regular maintenance routine.
Update your virus software, back up files and clean out temporary files
weekly. If you have more than one computer on your network, train other
users in the routine.
Turn off your computer when you're not using
it. You know that wonderful access you get from a DSL or cable modem?
It's a two-way street. If you don't want something nasty coming through
your computer door, close it.
6. Go into your computer's control panel and
deactivate unnecessary services. If you run a one-person office, why do
you need file or printer sharing? For a hacker, such features are the
keys to your kingdom. Other hacker helpers include disk sharing (without
a password), script hosting and even instant messaging. The simpler you
keep your system, the easier it is to protect.
7. Don't open unexpected attachments. Even a joke
from a friend could be the result of his infected computer reaching out
to taint your machine. If you receive an attachment you're unsure about,
call and check before opening it.
8. Don't use default passwords. If you're
utilizing a program that requires a password, use a unique password.
9. Turn off the "hide file extensions" feature
and beware of any file with a double extension. This is a big tip-off
that the file contains something malicious, and that the creator is
trying to conceal that fact. Everyone knows not to open an .exe file for
fear of a malevolent program, but files tagged .vbs, .vbe, .shs, and .sbs
are potential problems, too. Hackers also have dreamed up ways to cram
viruses and worms into all kinds of formerly safe file types, including
those ending with .doc, .bat, .txt, .pif, .lnk and .pdf. And if a Word,
Excel or PowerPoint document contains macros, they could be used to hide
malicious programming, says Chris Wysopal, director of research and
development for @stake, Inc., a digital security consulting company
based in Cambridge,
10. Be careful about where you go on the Internet.
X-rated Internet sites are notorious breeding grounds for computer
diseases. But common sense should tell you that if a site makes a
promise that's too good to be true, such as a $300 piece of Microsoft
software for free, it's probably a nightmare waiting to happen.
Foresight, along with a firewall and some good anti-virus software,
should keep your computer up and running for a long time.
11. Make friends early with an expert. Getting
help when a virus hits is like trying to get the air conditioner
repairman out to the house during a heat wave. The time to cultivate a
relationship with a local computer professional is before a virus
strikes so you will be on the priority list, says Michael Erbschloe,
vice president of research for Computer Economics, Inc., a research firm
headquartered in Carlsbad,
Calif. Finding a good service is easy. Check with computer stores or get
referrals from friends and business associates.
Stay informed. Visit virus-protection Web sites regularly and bookmark a
couple you really like. Stay on top of what viruses are out there and
how you can protect your computer in advance. Since many viruses exploit
the design of certain types of software, check the manufacturers sites frequently for free downloads of fixes or
"patches." The best way to fight a virus, says Erbschloe, is not to
catch it in the first place.
Dana Dratch is a free-lance writer based in Georgia.
Posted: Sept. 10, 2001