The Edible Computer Forums

Monday, August 25, 2003          
With Computer Columnist Sue Braiden
click here for today's show in RealAudio
click here to share your thoughts in today's forum
CBC Radio Dispatch   . . .   Consumer Computing with Sue Braiden   . . .   1550 am Windsor   .   88.1 fm Chatham   .   90.3 fm Sarnia
Visit the Edible Computer Virtual Studio

The New Breed of Computer Virus:  Public Menace #1 ? CBC Radio Computer Columnist, Sue Braiden.

What role do consumers and their computers play in the threat to critical public services?

More than you might think ...

It's important to understand how you might unknowingly play a role in the growing threat to the public systems we depend on. In the midst of the worst week for worms in consumer computing history, people are beginning to learn more about how important it is to be vigilant, daily, about updating their virus scan programs, and having a personal firewall, and how not doing so may be contributing to significant national crises.

Virus Detection and Prevention Tips from McAfee

  • Do not open any files attached to an email from an unknown, suspicious or untrustworthy source.

  • Do not open any files attached to an email unless you know what it is, even if it appears to come from a dear friend or someone you know. Some viruses can replicate themselves and spread through email. Better be safe than sorry and confirm that they really sent it.

  • Do not open any files attached to an email if the subject line is questionable or unexpected. If the need to do so is there always save the file to your hard drive before doing so.

  • Delete chain emails and junk email. Do not forward or reply to any to them. These types of email are considered spam, which is unsolicited, intrusive mail that clogs up the network.

  • Do not download any files from strangers.

  • Exercise caution when downloading files from the Internet. Ensure that the source is a legitimate and reputable one. Verify that an anti-virus program checks the files on the download site. If you're uncertain, don't download the file at all or download the file to a floppy and test it with your own anti-virus software.

  • Update your anti-virus software regularly. Over 500 viruses are discovered each month, so you'll want to be protected. These updates should be at the least the products virus signature files. You may also need to update the product's scanning engine as well.

  • Back up your files on a regular basis. If a virus destroys your files, at least you can replace them with your back-up copy. You should store your backup copy in a separate location from your work files, one that is preferably not on your computer.

  • When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and do not open, download, or execute any files or email attachments. Not executing is the more important of these caveats. Check with your product vendors for updates which include those for your operating system web browser, and email. One example is the security site section of Microsoft located at

  • If you are in doubt about any potential virus related situation you find yourself in, click here to report a virus.
  • From the "Slammer" worm that crashed an Ohio nuclear power plant network and disabled the safety monitoring system; to the "Welchia" worm that hobbled Air Canada's systems; and the "Blaster" worm that affected some computers of Ontario's emergency response system dealing with the aftermath of this month's huge blackout across a swath of the province and eight U.S. states; it's becoming painfully evident that consumers have an increased responsibility to practice "safe computing".

    A raft of new viruses and worms have hit the deck, designed to turn home and business computers into weapons against corporate and national networks. New strains of the nasties have been designed to copy themselves and infect millions of computers around the world through email, and the "trojans" they leave behind on your computer. The latter allows your computer to become part of an international chain of systems invoked in "denial of service" attacks, compromising both safety and the economy. In a society that's become increasingly dependant on being wired, we're finding ourselves more vulnerable than ever, with national leaders debating the issue of the legal accountability of both home and business computer users who aren't doing their part to prevent the spread of viruses and worms.


    What? Me Worry?

    The sweeping, unchecked spread of viruses like wildfire attests to the large number of computer users who still aren't using protection, or aren't keeping it up to date. You might be thinking "So it's my computer -- why do you care if I get a virus?" The problem is it's just not that simple. The latest round of viruses and worms prove just how dangerous a single unprotected computer can be, spreading an infection to thousands of other systems without the owner ever knowing. And with societies increasing dependance on open access, some of our most critical services are more vulnerable than ever, from our national power grid, to banking systems and airlines.


    Gotta Get Protection!

    If you're going to be on the net, you MUST have virus protection, and you MUST use it. It's the Dr. Ruth rule of the digital world, and it's not one to be broken. If you don't have a virus scanning program, get one now, and spend time learning to use it well.

    More importantly, when the demo runs out, buy it. Don't just think about it. Do it. It will cost you between $25-$90 to register it if you've downloaded one from the net. Alternatively you can buy a package retail at most computer and office supplies stores.

    Purchasing/registering allows you to continue updating the program so you are protected from the raft of new viruses that are launched every day (more than 500 every month!).

    1. Download a Good Virus Scan Program

      There are a number of excellent anti-virus programs available. Here are 3 of the top programs that you can download and try out right now:

      Looking for other suggestions? Always up-to-date with ratings on the mark, try:

      When picking an anti-virus program ...
      make sure it's reputable so that you can count on it to be current.

    2. Put the Features to Work

      Check the options. Your scan program probably allows you to change settings that enable it to automatically scan email, attachments, downloads, and even websites you visit.

      Most of the better anti-virus programs have "heuristic analysis" built in, a kind of adaptable intelligence that is able to learn recognizable virus behaviours as it goes, enabling it to detect trojans and unknown viruses.

      Be sure to take advantage of the features available in your virus-scan program, especially automatic settings that accomodate those of us who forget to scan until it's too late.

    3. UPDATE it!

      Your virus scan software is only as good as it is current. New viruses are being created daily. Your scan program is no good if it's capabilities are 2 years old.

      While most of us won't remember to update until it's too late, most good virus scan programs allow you to schedule automatic scans of your system, and even updates. This is especially important with the increasing number of insidious viruses and variants that are cropping up. Update DAILY. It only takes a couple of minutes, and it may save you months of grief.

    4. Virus Alerts can help you stay on top of new worms and viruses as they emerge, and know when to update your anti-virus software to meet them at the door and blast them.

      Best Bet:


    Why Pay for an Anti-Virus Program When I Can Get One for Free?

    Did you know that over 500 new viruses are discovered each month? That's a lot of activity for a company in the business of developing protection programs to keep up with! With over 63,000 viruses identified worldwide, the money you spend on a good virus scan program is an investment in the security and stability of your computer. Working with a company that's big enough to handle the research and development and put out solutions quickly is an insurance policy worth the money spent. The damage done by an unchecked worm or virus can be far more costly in the long run.



    McAfee rebate coupon ($20US/$30CAN)

    (Will open coupon in new window. Detailed images may take a few moments to load).

    What's All This Talk I Hear About Worms, Trojans, Hackers and Firewalls?

    You may already be familiar with the danger of computer viruses, and know how to avoid them. But do you know that there are other ways that people can access personal information on your computer, and even turn your PC into a weapon against other computer systems without you even knowing it?

    The latest round of nasties don't arrive in email, and aren't considered traditional viruses. They're designed to arrive through the backdoor, and spread themselves the same way.

    The first danger? -- hackers that are able to access your computer without you knowing about it. While you're on the internet, visiting a website, people on other computers are able to access your computer without your knowledge, unless you have something called a "firewall". A firewall is a computer program that recognizes outside attempts to access your computer, and shuts them down. Most firewalls also work with "tracer" software to determine where the attack is coming from, and then to log it so that it can be reported to organizations who track and prosecute cybercriminals.

    The easiest way for a hacker to get into your system is when a type of computer virus called a "Trojan Horse" has been sent to you through email, or in something that you've downloaded. A "Trojan" can sit on your computer without you knowing it. It probably won't damage your system, but it may be sending personal information from your computer back to someone else. It may even be directing your computer's activity as part of a coordinated, mass attack against another computer system, like a bank, or the government. You may have heard the term "Denial of Service attack". This is when thousands, sometimes millions, of computers become part of a continuous barrage of requests for service on a particular system, eventually crashing the system, and perhaps leaving a business or organization vulnerable to unauthorized access.

    How can you tell if you have a Trojan Horse on your computer? There are definite symptoms the suggest the presence of this kind of problem. You many notice that your computer suddenly slows down dramatically, especially when you are attached to the internet. You might notice that your modem lights are very active, even when you are not sending or receiving email, or surfing or downloading from the internet. This activity may infact be a Trojan using your computer to send streams of information to another computer.

    How do you know for sure? Good virus scan programs are able to detect this type of virus on your computer, and eliminate it. If you don't have a virus scan program, or it's not up-to-date, click on the link below to find out where you can get good protection for little or no cost:

    Edible Computer Forums: Anti-Virus Software

    While Anti-Virus programs are good for dealing with Worms and Trojans after the fact, they're not so adept at catching some of the newer breeds of nasties that sneak in the back door without the assistance of email or downloads. In addition to Anti-Virus software, you should also be equipped with a good Personal Firewall. Here are a few suggestions ...

    Best Bets:

    Best Freebies:

    Other Options:

    I mentioned a second way that people can gain unauthorized access to your computer. "Spyware" is something that may be present because of a program that you've downloaded, like a free email utility, or game program, and unknowingly given it permission to monitor your activity, and send that information, and even personal information from your computer, back up to the company that owns the program. The most common form of "Spyware" is "AdWare", built in advertising programs that you agree to allow to display on your computer as part of some utility that you've downloaded. The most common "adware" programs?

    • Alexa, Aureate, Comet Cursor, Cydoor, Doubleclick, DSSAgent, EverAd, eZula, Expedioware, Flyswat, OfferCompanion, Hotbar, OnFlow, TimeSink, Web3000, Webhancer, Transponder, Wnad, ZapSpot, SurfPlus, AdvertBar, NetPal, CashBar, WurldMediaBHO, MessageMates, EWA, Ezsearchbar, CommonName, GoHip, DownloadWare, NetworkEssentials, ImiServerIEPlugin, TopMoxie, Lop.Com, BDE Projector, OpenMe, JaypeeSysBHo, FlashTrack, NetRadar, and many Browser Hijackers

    You might recognize some of these programs, and maybe have them on your system now. How can you know for sure, and get rid of them if they're present?

    The best program for dealing with "spyware" is one you can download for free:


    Click on the link above to download a free copy now.

    *One word of caution: when using AdAware to identify potential spyware programs, you'll be given the option of deleting them automatically. This can infact cause problems on your computer, including causing it to crash when you try to restart it. The best way to delete a program once it's been detected is to use your computer's own "uninstall" function. With Windows, you'll find this under "Start, Settings, Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs".

    If you do not see the spyware program listed there, use AwAware to delete the program's components.

    Sound like a lot to get your head around?

    No worries! If you have questions or concerns, post a note at the Edible Computer forums. I'll do my best to answer it in a timely, helpful fashion.

    Parting thought: don't be afraid of these computer invaders. Protecting yourself is easy if you take the time to get good security software, and keep it up to date!


    Well, I got rid of the virus, but it made a real mess of my computer. How do I clean it up once it's gone?

    While most good anti-virus programs will clean up your Windows registries and try to restore basic system files, they're not much good at cleaning up some of the messes that certain viruses leave behind when it comes to your data and your basic system set-up. There are software applications that are good for diagnosing and repairing the kinds of problems that especially destructive viruses leave behind ...

    Sign up to receive the Edible Computer in your email.

    Best Bets:

    Best Freebie:

    • PC Pitstop (free online analysis and repair assistance)


    A Note from Sue ...

    Click here to visit Sue Braiden's personal website So you're wondering who won the "Favourite Family Resources" contest? Me too!

    gentle listener :)

    Paul Vasey will be helping me do the draw, on the air, live, on Monday, August 25th at 7:25 a.m.. I'll announce the winner here at the website shortly after the show.

    Have some thoughts on what you'd like to see covered in future shows? Be sure to visit the Listeners Picks forum to tell me about it. I'm always looking for great new stories to share.

    Have a terrific Monday morning, and let's keep talking!



    Copyright 2003
    Community Frontiers
    URL . . . Email . . . Phone 1-519-258-9168