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What is a Virus?

 

Don't Open That Attachment
By Bill Mills

The spread of internet worms and trojans is reaching an all time high.  A form of computer virus, worms and trojans aren't illnesses or infections, they are computer programs capable of self replicating.  

A typical trojan relies on the same concept used by the Greeks in their attack on the city of Troy.  The attack was chronicled by the Greek author Homer, and historians place it as happening somewhere around 1500 BC to 1200 BC.  In order to gain access to the walled city of Troy the Greeks built a giant horse and left it outside the city gates.  The Trojans, thinking it was a gift, brought it inside.  That night under the cover of darkness, Greek soldiers climbed out of a hiding place in the horse and slew the Trojans.

Like the Trojan horse, a trojan computer program is designed to make a person think is is something good and safe.  This is to trick them into running it, after which it does it's dirty work.

How do they infect my computer?

Trojans typically arrive as an e-mail attachment, sometimes from someone you know.  Some of the e-mails have topics or messages such as "This is a new game I have written, I want you to try it," "I send this file to you for your opinion," or the very poorly translated "We are maker of anti virus software you must run this program to protect your computer.  Do not worry if your AV software cry, press continue, this because our program fool virus by acting like virus." (this last one, which I've paraphrased was written in such poor English it could have been written by the same guy that translated "All your base are belong to us.")

What do they do?

What the trojans do once you have run them varies, some of the fastest spreading trojans install themselves into your computer, and start running again every time you reboot.  They then harvest e-mail addresses from your Microsoft Outlook address book, or by scanning the cache of web sites you have looked at recently.  Then they will send copies of themselves to the addresses they have, and sometimes will leave your address as the return address, or forge a fake e-mail address also from the list they generate.  The more destructive trojans, once they have spread copies of themselves to other computers can do more serious damage, deleting files from your hard drive, opening gateways for hackers to remotely operate your computer, or worse, e-mailing copies of private files from your computer to others.

How can I protect myself?
 

  • DON'T OPEN ATTACHMENTS - Here's the thing - if you double click on an attachment, and it is something other than what it appears to be, you could end up running a trojan.  Due to a shortcoming in MS Outlook, some Trojans are able to look like a data file (.jpg, .mpeg, etc.) while actually having a hidden extension like .exe that tells the computer to run them when you double click on them
  • QUESTION THE SOURCE - If you get a generic sounding e-mail with an attachment that looks a little suspicious, don't be afraid to e-mail the sender to double check.  Did this person really mean to send it?
  • OPEN APPLICATIONS NOT FILES - If the attachment appears to be legit, and is from a trusted source that you've confirmed, it's still a bad idea to open it by double clicking on it.  Instead save the file on your hard drive to a place where you know you won't accidentally double click it.  Then, open the application you would use to view it (MS Explorer, MS Word, Windows Media Player, etc.) and then, from the file menu in that program, open the file.  This ensures that you are opening the file as data, and not running it as a program.  If it's not a legit file, the program won't be able to read and display it.
  • GET GOOD ANTI VIRUS SOFTWARE - Get it, install it, and keep it updated.  This is one step - but don't feel invulnerable because you are using the software.  Anti virus programs have to know what they are scanning for, and new viruses, trojans and worms pop up every day.
  • CONSIDER DIFFERENT E-MAIL SOFTWARE - Many of the rapidly spreading worms and trojans exploit security flaws, or read the address book of Microsoft Outlook.  Outlook is not the only e-mail software out there Netscape Navigator (free download) includes e-mail software, and many other free or shareware e-mail programs can be found at Download.com
  • DON'T TRUST IT BASED ON WHO SENT IT - It may not come from who you think sent it.  I have personally seen trojans spreading with forged return addresses from WARPIG.com, ForceOfNature.com, and Paintball.com Other paintball web site webmasters have reported to me that they've received trojans with return addresses from NWPaintball.com and PaintballChannel.com.  Don't let that return address fool you.  Even if the e-mail has an address from someone you know, or a source you trust, that doesn't mean that the address isn't a forgery, or that the person you trust hasn't been infected.
What if you are already infected?

The easiest way to find out if you are infected, is scanning with a good up to date anti virus program.  If you're infected with something that copies itself by e-mail, you may get e-mails from friend saying "why did you send this to me?"

The best way to protect yourself is to be vigilant, check your system, and DON'T OPEN THAT ATTACHMENT by double clicking on it - only open it in a viewer application.  
 


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