We often get inquiries asking about or suggesting some strategies of protection against viruses. It is alarming how many people put their faith in flawed strategies. No wonder so many people get virus infections on their computers. I will review the flawed strategies often suggested and explain why, in my humble opinion, they are flawed. I don’t proclaim to be an expert with viruses but can claim that my strategies have successfully prevented any infection on my computers. I have been using computers for over a decade, have had very many encounters with viruses of all kinds and have been spared any problems so far. I have also assisted numerous clients in successfully protecting their systems. I have also been paid good money to help clients who have managed to let a virus infect their computers – their computers needed fixing. Most of those who needed the help were using the flawed strategies below. I hope that you can benefit from this and avoid (and also for those in your address book) the grief of a virus infection on your computer.
1) “I only open messages from people I know and delete everything else.”
FLAW: If someone you know doesn’t have adequate virus protection measures in place and their computer gets infected and your email address is in their computer then you are likely going to be receiving infected messages from that person.
FLAW: If someone you know gets a different email address you might be deleting harmless messages from someone you know.
2) “I don’t open emails that have attachments, I just delete them.”
FLAW: Not all attachments are harmful. You might be deleting family photos or something just as benign.
FLAW: Some viruses don’t are not delivered as attachments. There are some viruses that infect the message itself and the mere act of previewing or reading the email is enough to infect a computer.
3) “I have antivirus software. I don’t know what version it is and how old or current it is.”
FLAW: There are new viruses being written all the time and the strategies being used by the nogoodnicks that write them are increasingly sneaky. Older antivirus programs that were written before the newer viruses were discovered are often unable to detect and/or protect your computer from the newer viruses.
4) “I have Norton Antivirus and that is supposed to look after those concerns. I don’t know what version it is”.
FLAW: This similar to the point above. Norton AntiVirus (NAV) is arguably the most popular antivirus software and for most people the best antivirus software (some of you may disagree) according to some statistics. It is a good program and that is what is used in our office. Here is the important aspect: versions 2000 and 2001 both have a feature to enable email scanning but the user must go into NAV’s options and enable each individual email account on the computer. The problem with this is that sometimes folks get new email accounts (for example switching from @home.com to @shaw.ca) and forget to change the settings in NAV to add protection to the new account. The newer NAV version 2002 will also protect email accounts but fortunately will protect all accounts, without you having to enable the protection on an individual account basis, provided the email protection option is enabled.
5) “Add a bogus email address in your address book and make the address something like “firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com”
Such an address would be placed near the top of the records in your address book, assuming sorting alphabetically or numerically. The strategy is that if and when a virus that has infected your computer it will attempt to distribute itself to contacts in your address book and it will select the bogus address and when it can’t send an email to that address it will halt. Furthermore the strategy suggests you will get an error message, alerting you to the fact you have a virus infecting your computer.
In my humble opinion this strategy is useless at protecting your computer from a virus infection. What is more important? Protecting your computer from infection in the first place, or possibly finding out after the fact that already have one? I think it is far more important to prevent infection.
Furthermore you’ll note I said “possibly finding out…” From what I have read on the topic some viruses select some addresses at random from your address book, not all addresses. So if you get nailed by a virus that selects some addresses at random and it doesn’t select the bogus address it will do its dirty work undetected.
I think that it is foolish to place any reliance on this strategy. I don’t use it. I believe the only truly safe way to protect your computer from a virus infection is to never use a floppy disk and disconnect all phone lines and network cables so it can never connect to your email. That is obviously unacceptable so you have to be diligent and ensure your anti-virus software is current (get the new version every year). You also have to ensure your virus definitions are updated very regularly – at least weekly. This seems to be effective. Over the years I have had hundreds of virus encounters with dozens of different viruses and have never had a virus infect my computers.
The bogus email address strategy is analogous to putting a water detection alarm in your basement, 2 feet above the floor, in case the basement floods, instead of having a sump pump in good working order. When the alarm is triggered you already have a flooded basement and your possessions have been damaged. It is too late! You are far better off if you have a good sump pump and inspect and maintain it regularly.