Without getting overly technical, a computer virus is simply a chunk of code that attaches itself to a document or program. After the program is run, the virus begins to do its thing. Some viruses are downright destructive and will destroy your files and possibly damage your hard drive.
Few, if any, viruses affect Mac OS X. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that viruses that affect it can't, or won't, be created ”it's better to be safe than sorry.
Protecting Your Computer
There are things you can do to protect yourself against computer viruses that enable you to continue to work in safety:
Don't accept unsolicited files from strangers! Sometimes you see them on an online service. You get a message saying "Here's that file I promised to send," or something similar. But you've never heard of the person and never expected to receive a file. Fortunately, most of those files are PC-based (with .SHS, .EXE, and .ZIP attached to the filenames). Even if there's potential damage from a file, if you don't download and try to run that file, you're safe.
Don't accept files from people you know unless you really expected the file! Now this can get mighty confusing, but email viruses exist that can grab someone's address book and spread by sending attachments to everyone on the list. So if you receive a file from a friend or business contact that you didn't expect to receive, contact that person just to make sure. It can happen to you.
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America Online will put up a warning message whenever you attempt to download a file of the type mentioned previously. Again the danger is primarily to the users of the other platform, but there's no telling when some vicious prankster will develop equivalent Mac viruses.
Download software only from major online services and known commercial sites! The folks who run the software repositories on AOL, AT&T WorldNet, CompuServe, EarthLink, Prodigy Internet, and other services, as well as regular software publishers, will check their files for problems before they make them available. That helps ensure the safety of those files (although there's always the slight possibility of a problem with an undiscovered virus).
Get virus protection software! This is the best way to ensure that your computer will be kept safe from virus infections. I'll cover this subject in more detail in the next part of this lesson.
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If you happen to receive a virus-infected disk from a friend or colleague, don't be shy about telling him. It's no insult to inform folks of such a problem; in fact, it might save their valuable files before it's too late.
A Look at Virus Protection Software
Virus protection software isn't expensive. The popular products I'm describing here usually go for less than 60 bucks at most computer dealers. When you compare that to the potential devastation as a result of getting a virus infection, it's a small price for safety and peace of mind.
As with any software product a specific set of features might be more appealing to you, but any of the programs I'm describing will do the job.
Norton AntiVirus ” This program, published by Symantec, at http://www. symantec .com (see Figure 29.4) is designed to check for viruses every time you insert a disk into a drive, mount a networked disk on your computer's desktop, or download a file from the Internet; the latter courtesy of its Safe Zone feature. So-called suspicious activities are also monitored . You can perform scheduled scans , where the program will launch automatically at a predetermined hour and scan your drives . One intriguing feature is called Live Update, where the program will log on to the publisher's site every month and check for updates to protect against newly discovered viruses.
Figure 29.4. Norton AntiVirus can be set to update itself automatically with new detection modules.
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Such features as Live Update, which retrieve minor program updates and new virus definitions, don't mean you'll never have to pay for a new version of the software. From time to time, usually every year or two, a publisher will release an upgrade that you actually have to purchase. That's how they stay in business.
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To benefit from all the features described previously, you need Norton Utilities version 8.0 or later. An earlier Mac OS X native version, 7.0.2, was not capable of automatic background protection and had to be run manually. The same holds true for Virex, which did not incorporate an auto-protection feature in its first Mac OS X release.
Virex ” This is published by Network Associates, at http://www.nai.com (see Figure 29.5). Many of the features offered by Norton AntiVirus are also available with Virex. The program will scan files from a networked drive or the ones you download, and it will do scheduled scans. A special technology called heuristics is designed to check for virus-like activity to help protect you against unknown viruses. Updates to the program are usually offered on a monthly basis and are available via its Auto Update feature.
Figure 29.5. Virex offers drag-and-drop detection and regular updates.
VirusBarrier ” A third contender, VirusBarrier, comes from Intego (http://www.intego.com), a fairly new software publisher in the Mac marketplace , but one that's attracting a lot of attention for its product line, which also includes Internet protection and security software. Similar to the virus protection applications, there's an automatic update feature so your virus protection remains current.
The Right Way to Use Virus Software
Buying and installing virus software isn't necessarily a guarantee that you'll be protected. Here are some further issues you should be aware of:
New viruses are discovered all the time! The publishers of virus software share information, so everyone can be protected in case a new virus strain crops up. You'll want to check a publisher's Web site at least once a month for virus detection updates. The information on how to keep updated is usually included with the publisher's documentation. Using a program's capability to do automatic scheduled updates is a real plus.
Virus software might slow things down! Every time you insert a removable disk into a drive, the virus program will spend a few moments checking it out ( assuming you've configured the program for the automatic scanning routine). You can defeat this protection and save a few seconds, but I wouldn't recommend it. Virus infections might come from unexpected sources, too.