Unfortunately, there are many conscience-free people out there with nothing better to do than write and circulate programs designed to harm computer data, software, and even hardware. Many of today’s computer problems come from viruses and could have been prevented by proper use of good antivirus software. The virus situation is so bad that any unprotected computer that has been connected to the Internet for awhile is likely to have some kind of virus. Simply avoiding opening e-mails from unknown senders and not opening attachments is nowhere near enough. Besides that, people who do delete such messages and attachments probably end up deleting important messages and attachments. Yet many people either don’t install antivirus software or never update the program they have. People need to realize that, to be effective, antivirus software needs a file written to deal with nearly every different virus. Virus developers are at work 24/7. That is why antivirus program developers offer “pattern updates” from their Web sites as often as several times a week. Most of these programs offer some type of automatic updates—they check to make sure programs are up to date every day the user logs on to the Web, and prompt the user to accept the update if available. Just follow the instructions supplied with the program.
The program will also prompt the user to scan for viruses regularly. In fact, any prompts from antivirus programs should be heeded as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean that you should let a program start a routine scan or some other time-consuming process while you’re in the middle of an important task, but you should let it scan as soon as you’re finished.
If the program finds a virus, it will probably attempt to clean, quarantine, or delete the file(s) and prompt you to scan the entire system for additional infection. This should be done as soon as possible to avoid further contamination. These programs also offer virus encyclopedias both in their user interface and on their Web pages. If the program tells you it cannot effectively deal with the virus, search your program’s encyclopedia for instructions and follow them if possible. If your program’s encyclopedia doesn’t have helpful information, you can search the encyclopedia of one of its competitors.
If you have a spare computer with a good virus scanning program, a great way to scan for viruses is by removing the hard drive to be scanned and connecting it to the spare as an additional hard drive (see Chapter 6 for information on installing hard drives). For ease in connection, the spare should have a hard drive cable connected by itself to the secondary IDE controller, and a power connector, both coming out of a space on the front of the computer. Find something stable to prop up the hard drive and run the virus scan. There are several advantages to doing it this way. First, you know that no files will be in use on the scanned hard drive, error messages are much less likely, and rebooting is unnecessary to clean infected files. Use 2000 or XP so that Windows will recognize any file system. A computer like this is also good for backing up data. Figure 2.23 shows an example of such a computer.
Figure 2.23: A computer dedicated to virus scanning and data backup.
Sometimes, virus scan programs report infected files in the hidden _Restore folder in Me or XP, but cannot clean or delete the files. While the file can be safely deleted in DOS in Me, it might not be possible to delete the individual file in XP. It is easier to disable System Restore, reboot the computer, and re- enable System Restore to delete the entire _Restore folder. See Chapter 11 for instructions on disabling and enabling System Restore.
Here are four effective antivirus programs:
McAfee Virus Scan by Network Associates: This is available in both a CD-ROM version and an online version. Web page: mcafee.com
Norton Antivirus™ by Symantec: This is one of many antivirus and other helpful products available from Symantec. Web pages: symantec.com and norton.com
PC-Cillin™ by Trend Micro™: Trend Micro has a wide range of antivirus and other security-related products in its line. Web page: antivirus.com
AVG Anti-Virus™ by Grisoft: This one leaves no excuses not to have antivirus protection—one version is available free of charge! Web page: grisoft.com
Spyware consists of programs that do things such as steal your private information. Malware are programs that can cause harm to a computer, yet they aren’t considered viruses. There are other types of problematic programs as well. These programs often end up on the computer from the user visiting, and especially downloading from, two types of Web sites: porn sites (adult sites), and the ones most likely to be installed when teenagers get to the computer, such as:
Any dialer.exe program the user didn’t install on purpose
Although some of these provide valuable services, it is still better not to have them. Some of these don’t show up in installed program lists in Add/Remove Programs. If that is the case, you’ll have to go into Program Files and delete their folders, and then use a registry cleaner to delete their entries (see Chapter 11 for information on the registry).
Another way to deal with them is to install and run a program called Ad-Aware™ from Lavasoft (lavasoft.nu or lavasoft.de). There is a free version and an inexpensive version; both are worth the weight of a hard drive in gold (there are also other programs for this purpose). Download the latest version and install it (make sure to read and comply with the terms of the license). Then, run the program. You’ll most probably discover many junk programs even if you have no idea how they got there. Make the choice to remove everything unless you find something you know you need. Instruct the user to update the signature file and run Ad-Aware regularly—once a month or more will be advisable, depending on the frequency of surfing and the types of Web sites visited.