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The Web Can Help Immunize Your Computer From Viruses

By Shari Gerson (sharigerson@wwwiz.com)

 I'm no computer genius, just an average, everyday computer user who likes to log onto the Internet to see what's out there, make a purchase or two, or visit a chat room. But I do like to keep up-to-date with the latest goings on, and it seems that with every new wonder that explodes onto the scene, comes a new problem, and the Internet is no exception.

          Viruses, ``worms," and ``Trojan Horses" (computer programs that are designed to look like something fun or attractive, such as games or screensavers) are invading computers with lightening speed from every direction. They can (and will) disable your computer and wipe out files and critical information on your hard drive. And if it comes as an attachment in your email, there is nothing you can do to stop its havoc once you've opened it.

          One of the most disturbing ones I read about was a ``worm" virus that came to an Air Force Base in Florida, when an unsuspecting worker opened an email attachment that looked as if it was sent from someone he knew. To his dismay, and before he could stop it, more than 1,000 files were wiped out (later to be rebuilt, thank goodness), but not before the base's computer service had to be shut down.

What can you do to protect yourself? First, never download an email attachment from someone you don't know. Second, if you do know the sender, scan the attachment anyway, since new viruses are popping up every day and in ways you'd never suspect. And if you download programs, games, etc., always check them before installing.

If you don't have an antivirus program already installed on your computer, get   one immediately. There are tons of sites on the Internet that let you download trial virus programs for free (or even entire programs) such as PC World Online,FileWorld,

Download.com, Tucows.com. You can also check such sites as MSN, America Online and other providers. You can find protection packages such as ``Dr. Solomon's Virus Protection Tools," which checks your computer and attachments for pesky viruses and disables them before they disable you. For late-breaking news on the latest bugs plaguing the computer world check:

http://www.kumite.com/myths for news of viruses and hoaxes, and the Federal Trade

  Commission for tips, warnings and articles. You may also want to subscribe to a newsletter from Tip World, which features tidbits from the software/virus world.

Two major antiviral software companies, Symantec (partnered with IBM and Intel) and Network Associates, have jumped on the bandwagon by working on new automated systems that quickly detect and defuse viruses. But these new systems don't help stop viruses from coming to us via the Internet. So what do we do? We have to cautiously arm ourselves with prevention programs to kill any new bugs that invade our computers' ``immune" systems and prepare. And under no circumstances do you let yourself get lazy and ``just open one" attachment since you haven't had any problems come your way for a long time. It only takes one file to do you in. So remember, hitting   the viruses before you're hit will go a long way toward saving your computer from a quick, and possibly deadly, illness.

          A great Web site to use monthly, or even weekly (for free!), is Housecall-Online. This is a must if you want to make sure your computer hasn't picked up any nasty viruses. It is up to date and detects most newly created viruses. It scans your computer for all known viruses and helps you if one is found.

 Extra Security

 One of the most important security features that many people forget about is a good firewall program. This prevents people from getting into your computer and viewing your files while you're online. The programs can show you every time someone probes your computer, which is extremely common among Web sites. The sites want to see the type of computer your using and all kinds of personal information that I, personally, feel are no one's business. After I installed a firewall, I was amazed at the number of times my computer privacy was invaded. A box pops up each time a probe is attempted; this happens about 50-100 times each time I'm online.

I use Zone Alarm (which can be obtained free from many freebie Web sites), and it puts me into ``stealth" mode when I'm online, making my computer and its ports invisible to prying eyes. There are tons of free firewall programs out there–get one now if you haven't already.

          And don't forget to disable ``cookies" on your Web browser. I don't know about you, but I do not want Web sites tracking me to see what sites I visit. Sites want to obtain marketing data on people to see what their habits are on the Internet. Again, another invasion of privacy that most of us hate.

          If you feel extra paranoid (don't worry, you're not alone), and really want to surf the Net anonymously, then definitely check out Anonymizer.com. That's where you can go and type in a Web address and be directed to the site completely invisible. The Anonymizer Web site doesn't track. In this day and age, it's not paranoid to think that you're being watched. You are. It's just a matter of by whom and how often. Protect yourself and your privacy now.

 A writer for more than 20 years with an archive of more than 400 published articles, Shari Gerson lives in Florida with her boyfriend, Robert, and their three cats, Oliver,
Pasha and Ja
ck.

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