LETTER TO THE EDITOR: More concern needed over computer virus protection

Matthew Dietrich

The article “Only YOU can prevent computer viruses!” which ran April 19, contained a wealth of wisdom concerning Internet hygiene. The process for enabling file extensions is an absolute must for every user. Also, the article suggested that we not rely on firewalls. This suggestion is important because firewalls are notoriously ineffective against viruses, so they lull the user into a false sense of security. The entire campus network lies protected behind a very carefully configured firewall, yet we continue to have a rash of viruses.

Overall, the article’s wisdom was as fundamental as “to avoid muggings, do not walk in dark abandoned alleys.”

That said, the article also contains a number of falsehoods that might lead users to believe that they are significantly safer than they actually are. For instance, the author wrote that “opening e-mail is not dangerous, but downloading and running an attachment can be.”

While this was once true, some recent viruses posses the ability to infect a computer without an attachment by abusing Microsoft Outlook’s built-in features. Thus, even the innocent act of opening an e-mail is no longer necessarily safe.

Also, Outlook has long opened e-mail attachments automatically, which was the behavior that gave rise to the first e-mail viruses.

Most dangerous of all is the article’s suggestion that the user is best served by simply learning to identify computer viruses without the use of anti-virus software.

While some might consider anti-virus software obtrusive, no user can safely expect to be able to identify any virus that comes his way. The author’s mistakes about e-mail attachments demonstrate that even expert users will be surprised some day if they rely on pure wit.

Furthermore, most anti-virus software updates itself, requiring minimal maintenance by the user. Especially considering Computer Services’ recent offer of free anti-virus software, there is no excuse not to protect yourself.

I cannot urge you enough to take advantage of free anti-virus software. Viruses can take a horrible toll on your computer and the work stored within, and all you need to prevent it is caution and a little help from Dr. Norton.