No. of Recommendations: 9
Section 2 – Viruses, Spam, Computing Safety


Switching gears, I'm hear a lot about virus programs that can attack my computer. What can I do about that?
There are many different virus protection packages on the market. Get one that you feel comfortable with (based on recommendations from friends or ask here for several opinions).

Just having the software installed does not completely protect you. You must also make sure you regularly update the virus definitions. “Regularly” means at least once a week. Some prefer to check for definition files (aka .dat files) daily at boot up. Most virus scanners include a scheduler that you can use to automatically check for .dat files and scan your system on a regular basis. In addition to having a scheduled time for updating your .dat files, you should check for available updates whenever there is a new, major virus outbreak.

In addition to scanning your system, you'll want to make sure your product scans your incoming email. The majority of malicious code arrives in your inbox in the form of an attachment. Notice I said “majority” not “all”! If you are not expecting an attachment, do not open it until you have verified that the sender meant to email it to you. (See “Safety Tips for home users” in Section 1 if you really MUST open it Most virus programs use the address book within email programs to spread. Even if your best friend sent you an email with a “Hot, New Pics” attachment, don't assume that they are the pictures from a recent Caribbean trip.

Some of the more popular packages:

To discuss viruses and virus hoaxes:
Speaker's Corner / Viruses, hoaxes, & spam, oh my!

More information on viruses, myths and urban legends:

OK, I *think* I'm nice and safe, but how do I know for sure?
Testing email defenses against VBS scripts:

Ugh. I have a virus on my computer. Can I use my sick leave and take time off work until my computer feels better?
You will have to check your company's sick leave policy, but generally a computer is not a family member, even if you consider it “your baby”. Giving it a name such as “Sexy Suzy” or “Big John” won't cut it either. You will need to ask your boss, but chances are that he already knows you have a virus and isn't too happy with you. With your luck this week, the virus payload includes mailing out the 47 page “Why I hate my boss” document to everyone in your address book. Who know? You just might get that time off.

Seriously, grab your backups. You did make a backup when you read the “Safety Tips for home users” in Section 1, right? Don't just reload your backup; we need to make sure your machine is clean first! Just make sure you have it handy. Next, go to the website for your virus scanner. Removal instructions are generally located there. If you do not understand the instructions, copy them over here and we'll try to help you out. Some viruses will include code that makes it difficult (or impossible) to get to the major virus scanner website. If this is your case, please post and we'll try to get the information for you.

If at all possible, you should have your computer disconnected from the internet (unless otherwise directed) incase the virus is one which allows a hacker to gain control of your system. It is not a good idea to shut it down (unless directed) as some viruses do nasty things to your computer at boot up. Common courtesy requires that you call your 97-year old great-aunt Nelda and advise her to NOT open any email from you (unless you want to go clean her system also.) If you have a safe and clean computer available, it doesn't hurt to drop a note to your (now-former) friends and let them know that you have been infected and may have sent a virus to their computer. If nothing else, they will get a chance to laugh at you. :-)


Spam is unsolicited email, generally commercial in nature. You'll know it when you get it! Often times they come with “instructions to remove”. Usually the only thing that will accomplish is notifying the spammer that your email address is valid so they can spam you more and/or sell your address to other spammers. The Viruses, Hoaxes, and spam board can connect you with other Fools who are trying to shut down spammers:

Speaker's Corner / Viruses, hoaxes, & spam, oh my!

Websites that may be of interest to you:
JunkBusters (this site deals with all types of marketing)

Tools to decode spam headers:


Everyone says that I need a firewall since I have broadband. What is a firewall, do I need one and, if so, how do I get one?
Firewalls come in hardware and software versions. Often times, a router or cable modem will have a built in firewall. Check the manual or system specs to determine if your model (or the one you are considering) includes a hardware firewall.

There are many different software firewalls. Check the features of several before deciding on which fits your needs. Sometimes a software firewall will conflict with other programs that may be running on your machine so if you start to have problems, you may want to disable the software firewall to see if that is the problem.

“Everything you wanted to know about firewalls but were afraid to ask”: (kind of technical)
Check the “firewalls” section of the Safety Tips post

Two of the more popular software firewalls are:
Zone Alarm (free for personal use)

Correspondence with Zone Alarm about the usefulness of the product:

Security, Advertising, and Spyware

This brings up a bigger issue. How secure am I when I am on the web? It seems like everywhere I go someone is trying to give me cookies or I'm being “redirected to an insecure site”.
For more information on cookies:
C is for Cookie

And a quick blurb on TMF's secure login:

And a discussion board related to internet security:
The Information Desk / Internet Security Issues

Since we are on the subject of internet security, what is all this “spy-ware” stuff I hear about? What can I do about it? Is this related to cookies?
Spy-ware is a program that is on your computer, usually without your knowledge, that tracks your internet usage. It might be something as simple as tracking which ads you have viewed or more intense to track what types of ads you have clicked on or what types of sites you visit. The “spy-ware” might be in the form of a cookie (like doubleclick cookies) or hidden in a “convenience” program like Gator or WebHancer.

Some ways to identify/remove (if you want) spy-ware and cookies and block ads/pop ups:
AnalogX (POW)
Cookie Cutter
Meaya Software
WebWasher (also available for the Mac)

Kid Stuff

How can I protect my kids? What are the best filters available? Cost is no object – this is my child.
Sometimes the best things in life are free. The number one, top-of-the-line filter is YOU. Sit with your children when they are surfing. Keep a list of their email/chat passwords. (They can have privacy when they pay their own rent!) Do not allow them to register with a website without your permission (and only after you've reviewed the privacy policy). Talk to your children about what you think is acceptable on the web. Explain your stance on giving out personal information such as name, address, phone number, school, activities, etc. Let them know that their internet/computer access is not a “right” it is a privilege.

OK, I concede. You can have the Internet-Mom-of-the-Year Award. I'd like to get away from Nickelodeon's Blast sounds after 10 minutes. Are there any tools for me?
I've got a sledgehammer that I'll sell real cheap and you can break their speakers. Seriously, you can install a content filter. One of the most popular:
Net Nanny 4
I personally use Net Nanny and find it very easy to set up. I've also used “GuardDog” by McAfee but at the time of this writing it is showing “not available” at Amazon. McAfee might have replaced it with this:

Most content filters will allow you to set time(s) that you'll allow access to the internet, block functionality (such as IM or chat), and block transmitting of personal information. They will also have a wide range of URLs and keywords in the default setting that you can choose to block. Generally, you can manually edit the lists. The “default” lists cover just about everything you can think of so as your child is surfing s/he may be locked out of a site that you deem acceptable. The “administrator” can generally approve access to a site.

As with virus scanners, your content filter is only as good as your last update. New hate sites and porno sites pop up everyday so you will want to update your software once a month or so. Also, be sure to review the logs. You might discover just how creative your child can be as they try to outwit the filter.

Other Stuff

To report internet fraud
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