Today as I was browsing the web, searching for 2010 Olympics Coverage, I was suddenly confronted by this “Virus Alert!” message:
Most people have been warned of the dangers of viruses – that they can steal your information, download loads of junk on your machine, cause computers to run slowly, or even delete your whole hard drive. (That last one isn’t true. While a virus may destroy some files and make working on your computer difficult, I don’t know of a single virus that would wipe the whole drive. After all, if a virus did that, it would have no where left to run from, or any place from which to copy itself to other computers. And what good would a virus be if it did that?). The problem is that most people have the fear of viruses instilled in them without clearly understanding how you can get a virus in the first place. According to this website (and my own experience), viruses can be caught and spread in one of three ways: 1) removable media devices (USBs), 2) downloads from the Internet, 3) email attachments.
- Removable media devices can easily catch a virus when used in an infected machine. When a device is plugged in to an infected machine, a virus can detect that and copy itself to the device so that when it is used on another machine, it can copy itself to the new machine. This is how viruses spread so easily and quickly among public use computers. So, it’s a good idea to have a separate “dirty” USB stick for use in public computers so that you don’t needlessly infect your own. Emailing documents to myself has become a great way to access my documents from any computer (including public ones) without risking USB infection.
- Accepting unknown downloads from the Internet is a sure way to infect yourself with a virus. ONLY accept and install programs from known and trusted sources. NEVER accept a download from a site you don’t know or a random pop-up. Many of these downloads will auto-install themselves if you accept them. The key thing to remember is that in viruses generally need some kind of user input or acceptance in order to install them onto your site. But often that user-input can be very tricky. So even if you think you haven’t accepted certain installations, you may have. Viruses don’t just “show up” on someone’s computer. If you know what to look for, what to be careful of, then you’ll find that viruses require you to allow them to run. The site listed above says: “Although the Internet gets a bad rap as a source of viruses, you’re no more likely to contract a virus from the Web than you are from packaged software.”
- About email attachments, the site above also says: “E-mail is not the virus breeding ground it’s made out to be, either. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for a virus to be transmitted by plain-text e-mail. Most viruses can only spread via attachments — either rich-text e-mail or attached applications. Using antivirus software, scan attachments from people you know, and never open attachments from people you don’t. If you’re a Microsoft Outlook user, you can also select security preferences that keep e-mail-borne viruses from exploiting the close relationship between Outlook and the Windows operating system.”
It is important to remember that viruses don’t “just appear” on your computer. Whether through the use of USB memory sticks and other removable media, or accidentally downloading and installing viruses from the Internet, or opening infected email attachments, each virus requires some kind of user input or interaction in order to invade your computer. Always be cautious, and keep your eyes open and your wits about you, and perform regular updates and virus scans (especially after encountering a phishing scam like this one), and your computer will be fine.
Anything I missed?
Oh, and just to put curious minds to ease. No, I don’t have a virus – the message I received was just a phishing scam. In my next post, learn how to discover and escape from a virus phishing scam.