Only YOU can prevent computer viruses!

Will Pattison

In the past year, the Lawrence network has had a large increase in the number of computer viruses on campus. Virus prevention is something that anyone who owns a computer should understand, and—with just a little instruction—can easily understand.Antivirus software (such as Norton or McAfee) can be an effective method of keeping a computer clean, but it requires maintenance and slows the performance of a computer down. A firewall is another tool used to make sure all of the data being sent out of a computer is safe. A firewall requires a lot of effort to set up, slows the computer down, and requires maintenance.

Learning how to identify and delete viruses without installing and maintaining anti-virus software is the best long-term solution.

The most common way a virus is spread is through e-mail. Opening e-mail is not dangerous, but downloading and running an attachment can be. The first thing to figure out is how to identify an e-mail attachment. With Hotmail, one must click on a link next to “Attachment.” With Outlook or Eudora, a paperclip symbol indicates an attachment.

After identifying a file attachment ask yourself these questions:

* Do you recognize and trust the sender? If the file is coming from Lisa5902@ and you don’t know a Lisa5902, then you should probably not open the file.

* Were you expecting this file? Even if it comes from a friend there is a good chance that your friend’s computer has been infected with a virus that is trying to spread itself. This catches many people off guard. Even if it looks legitimate, there is no simple way to be sure the file is not a virus.

E-mail is not the only way a virus can be spread. Rather than learning every possible way a virus can infect your computer, it is easier and equally effective to educate yourself in order to better solve potential problems. The first step is to learn what file extensions are.

File extensions are the three letters that often appear after a file name. Some file extensions that you may recognize include MP3 (music file), DOC (MS Word), AVI (video), JPG (picture), and EXE (program). The extension is simply a way to tell the computer what to do when you open the file. If you have a music file called “Britney Spears—What You See.MP3,” the MP3 extension on the end will make sure the file opens with a program like Windows Media Player, and not a random program like Microsoft Word.

One way to decide if a file is a virus is to look at the extension. If you don’t recognize the last three letters, you should use virus-scanning software before opening it. A common tactic of virus writers is to trick the user into thinking the file has a different file extension then it actually does. This is because, by default, a Microsoft Windows computer hides the file extension name. A virus writer might create a program called “MyPicture.EXE” then rename it “MyPicture.JPG.EXE.” The user might only see “MyPicture.JPG,” think it is a picture, and open it.

You can take action to prevent the spread of viruses by enabling the option to show file extensions. To do this, open “My Computer,” go to the “Tools” menu, go to “Folder Options,” select the “View” tab, then un-check the box marked “Hide extensions for known file types.” Look at the endings on files that open in the near future so you become familiar with common types. The more you learn about your computer, the more effective you will be in preventing the spread of viruses.