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Common Misconceptions about Computer Viruses

Antivirus software is the best possible protection against my getting a virus.

    False! The best protection is for you to follow prudent and careful procedures when reading email and accessing web sites. Antivirus (AV) software is very important, and an updated copy definitely belongs on every person's computer. However, its job is not to provide your primary protection - it is to provide an additional safety net if YOU fail to take adequate precautions. (And as you will see from the items below, AV software cannot provide 100% safety.)

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I have antivirus software so I am protected.

    No antivirus (AV) software can provide 100% protection against all threats to your computer. It is essential that you maintain CURRENT Windows Updates. Please follow this link to learn how.

    All AV programs are by definition reactive in nature; they work by comparing incoming files to virus patterns that are loaded into the AV program. There is always a delay - ranging from hours to days - from the time a virus is created until it becomes known to the AV vendors and then identified in the AV software. During this period the University could easily receive hundreds or thousands of infected messages.

    It is your responsibility to have Antivirus (AV) Software on your computer. The Computer Center provides it free for all university computers. However it is up to each individual user to obtain, install, and keep current the AV software for his or her computer. Please follow this link for more information.

    Remember, AV software is a security guard that can only protect you from a criminal it recognizes.

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I recognize the sender of this email so it is safe to open the attachment.

    No, addresses are easily and frequently forged ("spoofed"), so you cannot identify the sender just by reading the email message. In addition, because of the way viruses are written these days you are more likely to get an infected message from an address that you recognize than from a complete stranger.

    An attachment is a file that is sent along with an email (symbolized in GroupWise and many other email programs by a paperclip in your inbox). It can be anything from a document, to a program. Often times these days it is a virus. Unfortunately paranoia is the rule of the day. Always assume that any attachment you get may be infected. The only time it is safe to open an attachment is when all of these conditions are met:

    • You know the sender
    • You were expecting the attachment
    • You know the sender intended to send the attachment
    • You know the purpose of the attachment

    These points need to be verified outside of the email itself. You don't take advertising at face value, so treat email with the same suspicion. If you are unsure about any of these points then call or email the sender and ask for verification. If they did not mean to send it, delete the email immediately.

    Remember, be paranoid. When in doubt, verify and/or delete. Opening email is not like opening a present, it is like opening the front door of your house.

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This email is an important one from Microsoft, so I should do what it says.

    This is called Social Engineering. Terms such as "Microsoft", "System Administrator", and "Network Supervisor" carry with them a sense of authority in the computer world. Virus programmers know and use this information. Never automatically obey an email just because it seems to be from an authoritative source. Remember, the sender can be forged, so be paranoid. Always seek outside verification. Neither Microsoft nor the Computer Center will ever send you an unsolicited attachment. We will send you a notification that points you to an official website.

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I don't surf the web so I won't ever get a virus.

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It is the Computer Center's job to be sure my antivirus software is updated.

    It is up to each individual user to obtain, install, and keep current the AV software for his or her computer. The Computer Center has neither knowledge of nor access to every computer on campus. Therefore, it is impossible for us to take care of each and every computer. The Computer Center provides the tools and assistance to keep your computer running; however, it is your responsibility to take care of your Personal Computer.

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My virus scanner didn't find anything so my computer is clean.

    First, you might have a virus that your AV package could not identify. Or, you may have become "infected" by a different class of trouble-making program that is not considered a virus.

    Spyware, Malware, Adware, Scumware, Trojans. These are all programs that may be. placed on your computer with or without your knowledge, particularly if you are not careful in the sites you visit and the downloads you install. They are used to reveal information about your use of the computer to various companies, and in particularly bad cases, slow down your computer to the point of unusability, damage your files, or be used to launch attacks on other individuals. In fact, we have found that spyware/malware is the single largest cause of Internet access problems for the University.

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I just read email and do word processing so I don't need to do Windows Updates.

    There are threats other than viruses. Programs known as worms have the ability to spread themselves through no human intervention at all. The best way to protect against these viruses is to have all critical security patches installed on your version of Windows. Whenever Microsoft finds a vulnerability in Windows it releases a patch to fix it. Windows Updates are the only way to get these patches. Go here to learn how to update windows on your PC.

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