Computer viruses can cause serious havoc

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    By SHANNA GHAZNAVI

    BYU students need to take some important steps to protect their computers from viruses.

    Shawn Hansen, manager of CougarNet, said computer viruses spread quickly and students should “get a good anti-virus program and use it consistently.”

    There is not a fail-safe way to know when a computer has a virus, said Jeff Dowdle, the computer department manager at Orem’s Future Shop. He said one general indication that a computer has a virus is nonperformance or limited performance.

    Hansen said other symptoms might include: corrupted files, the computer taking a longer time to execute commands than usual or improper booting up of the hard drive.

    According to a “Sign of the Times” website, there are nearly 8,000 computer viruses existing and there are more surfacing every day.

    “Nothing is safe, so start assuming everything is infected,” according to the website (www.signweb.com/buy-guide/ryan2.html).

    A computer virus can be contracted by using an infected floppy disk, by running an executable (.EXE, .COM, .BAT) program that is infected or by running a program that accesses corrupted data files, according to the website.

    More specifically, Dowdle said viruses are often contracted when downloading files from the Internet. Hansen said a good way to avoid getting a virus is to only download from reputable sites and to scan all files with an anti-virus program before downloading.

    Viruses can also be contracted through attached e-mail files, Hansen said. He said viruses do not attach themselves to text, so e-mail messages warning recipients not to open certain e-mails carrying viruses are hoaxes.

    Hansen also said BYU lab computers can also infect disks occasionally, but the lab computers are scanned frequently, whenever the computers are rebooted.

    Jana Riska, a senior from Riverton majoring in social work, whose computer had a virus last month, said “I felt totally paralyzed — like I had my hands tied behind my back — it was so frustrating.”

    She said she realized her computer had a virus when her word processing files looked like “strange characters.”

    Riska’s computer was infected by a disk which was damaged “to the point that it couldn’t be reformatted,” she said.

    Hansen said students can purchase anti-virus kits for $4.95 in the CougarNet office in the James E. Talmage Mathematical Sciences/Computer Building.

    The “Sign of the Times” website suggests the following antidotes for computer viruses: get a good virus scanning program and update it monthly to make sure it can handle any new viruses; write-protect disks (flick the plastic tab in the top corner of the disk to the open position) if you use disks to transfer files; only give your disk to people you trust, especially if it contains valuable information; be informed on new viruses in advance by consulting the National Computer Security Association website; keep downloaded files in a separate area of your hard drive and scan them before you use them.

    If a computer is already infected with a virus, the virus can usually be neutralized by booting the system from a clean, bootable floppy disk, instead of from the hard drive and then running the anti-virus program.

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