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Monday, July 23, 2001

Learn to live with virus
Vipul Verma

NUMEROUS computer viruses abound and shall keep coming. We all know these may cause considerable loss to our work and data. Further, a threat always looms large over the minds of the users resulting in a fear psychosis and prompting to consider measures for combating this evil.

The best approach to the problem is to learn to live with it. Almost all computers running on Windows-based operating system are potentially threatened by the onslaught of viruses. These viruses are nothing but software programs containing malicious codes, which can affect the normal working of your computer by either altering or deleting the system information on your computer.

The viruses are mainly of three types viz. Virus, Trojan Horses and worms. Out of these variants, the worms and Trojans are not very risky, whereas viruses are considered deadly. Their impact may vary, right from irritating to crippling down the system and rendering it useless.


However, Trojans are less deadly and generally considered sleeping viruses and do not cause extreme damages like crashing down the computer. Trojan horse is basically a program in which malicious or harmful code is contained inside apparently harmless programming or data in such a way that it can get control and do its chosen form of damage, such as ruining the file allocation table on your hard disk. In one well-known case, a Trojan horse was a program that was supposed to find and destroy computer viruses. A Trojan horse may be widely redistributed as part of a computer virus. The viruses are also a program designed to spread itself by first infecting executable files or the system areas of hard and floppy disks and then making copies of itself. Viruses usually operate without the knowledge or desire of the computer user. Some of the most notorious viruses observed during the recent past are Kriz virus, W32.Kriz virus, Chernobyl virus, Anna Kournikova virus, SST virus, ILOVEYOU, Melissa virus etc. These viruses are known to have paralysed computer systems and caused billions of dollars worth of damage around the globe.

Viruses mainly affect the executable files and are transferred through emails, floppy, CDs or for that matter any other means of storage and transfer of data. The virus in the system is spread when you execute or open a program that's infected by a virus. By running this program the virus code will also run and will thus reach in your computer and will thus infect other programs. This forms a chain and thus more and more computers and programs fall prey to it. Viruses are of several types and the boot sector viruses have a record of crippling down the system to an extent that you may even have to format the hard disk. However some viruses, known as ‘multipartite’ viruses, can spread both by infecting files and by infecting the boot areas of floppy disks. The story of viruses does not end here, as they are not just related to executable files or boot sector.

Other type of virus is macro virus, which can affect word processing and spreadsheet documents that use macros. And it's possible for HTML documents containing JavaScript or other types of executable code to spread viruses or other malicious code.

Well! All this may scare the users. However, as said earlier, one has to learn to live with the computer viruses.

Many persons think that learning to live with virus means installing anti-virus software in the system and forgetting the rest. Some even think that you can even have two anti-virus software to be even more safe and secure. However, this may not be the right approach as the anti-virus software, be it Norton or McAfee, have a track record of problems and they surely decelerate the performance of your system. Having unnecessary and more than desired anti-virus protection is also not desirable and is often considered more harmful as they eat up the system resources.

Consider the case of a man who is taking all medicines known to him just in order to avoid the risk of being sick. Don’t you find it insane? Indeed it is, as ultimately that person may fall ill due to this only. Similar is the case with computers. All you need to know is some basic facts and the easy solutions provided by these anti-virus companies. One must remember that the mere presence of virus in the system is not a cause of worry. But executing the files containing the virus could be the beginning of trouble in the system. Regarding the threat of viruses, one must understand that file, including graphics and sound files such as .gif, .jpg, .mp3, .wav, etc., as well as plain text in .txt files are considered as safe and normally they do not carry a virus.

Therefore just viewing picture files won't infect the computer with a virus. The virus code has to be in a form, such as an .exe program file or a Word .doc file or .scr or .vbs file that the computer will actually try to execute. One must make sure not to open the files with these extensions and especially if they are received from a source not known. The chances are bright that these files could well contain viruses.

In this regard it is also important to understand that even if there is no virus detected by the latest virus scanner, there is no guarantee that the files with aforesaid file extensions are safe and free from virus. Sometimes, anti-virus programs aren't good at detecting Trojan horse and this could turn out to be fatal for your computer.

Therefore one should be extremely careful about opening binary files and Word/Excel documents from unknown or 'dubious' sources. There could be a threat of viruses/Trojan horse from posts in binary newsgroups, downloads from Web/FTP sites that aren't recognised and popular or don't have a good reputation, and executable files unexpectedly received as attachments to e-mail or during an online chat session. Regarding chatting also it is important to understand that except the change of text based messages; one should not exchange any other thing with the strangers. It could be suicidal to exchange files during a chat session with anyone as at this point of time you are exposed to the world, which may have all sorts of viruses, which even virus scanners may not be able to locate. You should also not accept floppies or CDs from anyone without scanning them with the latest Antivirus software.

This was something about precaution. However, if despite all possible care, if your computer happens to get infected by virus, then the first thing you should do is avoid getting panicky. Remember you can do nothing in panic. The cure for virus attack is simple.

Remember, before pressing the panic button due to virus make sure that your computer settings are correct. Normally, the abnormal behaviour of the computer is caused not by virus but due to some other problem in your system. However, it is a good idea to run a latest virus scanner in your system and check for the virus. This you should even do otherwise on a periodic basis. This will at least pinpoint the cause of the problem in system.

If no virus is detected then you must check the computer for the possible errors. However, if a virus is detected in the computer then follow the instructions of the virus scanner and clean the virus altogether from your system.