Monday, March 06, 2006

Antivirus n Emails!


Help protect your computer with safer e-mail practices

Sending and reading e-mail over the Internet is one of today's most popular activities. The widespread use of this technology makes it a primary way for computer viruses to spread. You can help protect your computer against viruses that spread by e-mail, and when you do so, you also help protect people who receive e-mail from you.

Specific actions you can take:

  • Use virus scanning software and keep it up to date with regular updates from the provider. Updates are very important because new viruses are created regularly.
  • Don't open attachments from senders you don't know. Even if you know and trust the source of the e-mail you should still be cautious. Carefully read the e-mail's subject line. Does the message on the subject line make sense coming from the sender? Does the subject line refer to something this person would want to send you a message about? If the subject line is just gibberish or does not make sense, you should not open the attachment.
  • Read your messages in plain text. Much of the e-mail you receive is created using a simple computer language called HTML. HTML makes it possible to use pictures, fancy backgrounds, icons, and different kinds of text in e-mail. But HTML can also allow hackers to hide viruses in e-mail. When you read your e-mail in plain text, you prevent the viruses from being transmitted to your computer.
  • Use your e-mail program's security features. See your e-mail program's Help topics for information about the options available to you. Many programs now include options for filtering images, handling attachments, and blocking unwanted messages. Features like these work together to help protect your computer and anyone you correspond with.
  • Be very cautious about opening links that you receive in e-mail. You never really know what a link is connected to. Internet Explorer 6 contains features that will help protect you in this situation.

How to decide if you can trust an e-mail message

E-mail is one way that viruses spread across the Internet. When you open an infected e-mail message, the virus can be transmitted to your computer, and then you, in turn, can infect people to whom you send e-mail. If you use e-mail, you can get dozens of messages every day that come from people you've never heard of. With so much e-mail coming in, how do you know which messages you can trust?

Think about these four things:

  • Do you know the person who sent you this e-mail message? Is this a person, organization, or business you know and trust? If you get mail from someone you've never heard of before or a source you never subscribed to, you should be cautious.
  • Have you received legitimate e-mail from this source before? Do you receive e-mail from this person regularly or occasionally? If you get e-mail from someone you know, but you've never received e-mail from them before, ask yourself if there is any reason you're getting this message now. If the answer is no, think twice before opening it.
  • Do you have any reason to expect e-mail from this person? Are you surprised to see this e-mail? Does it seem unusual or strange to be getting e-mail from this person? If the answer is yes, be cautious about opening the message.
  • Does the message on the subject line make sense coming from the sender? Does the subject line refer to something this person would want to send you a message about? If the subject line is just gibberish or doesn't make sense, the message might be junk mail that uses nonsense titles to get past spam filters that look for certain words.

If you are not sure that the e-mail you received is trustworthy, don't open it or even bother to reply. It's much easier to check before you open the message than it is to clean some viruses off of your computer.

One essential action to take:

  • Before you open any e-mail that has an attachment, make sure that your antivirus program is up to date and that it is turned on. This allows the antivirus program to scan attachments with the highest chance of protection.

Making sure your antivirus software is as effective as it can be

While it is important to install antivirus software on your computer, that alone is not enough. You need to be sure that your antivirus software is actively scanning the files on your computer as you use them (sometimes this is called "real-time scanning"), and that your program is up to date with the latest virus definition files. If you're using an antivirus program that Windows detects, the Security Center will keep track of it for you and normally will alert you if the program is out of date or is not running.

Find out which antivirus program you're using

To find out which antivirus program you are using in Windows XP, click Start, and then point to All Programs (or point to Programs if you're using the classic Start menu). In the list of programs, look for the name of your antivirus program or the software provider.

Turn on Real-time Scanning

When you install your antivirus software, you will be offered various options. Make sure you select the option that sets the program to run when your computer is on and to automatically scan all files as you use them. This option can be called "background scanning," "real-time monitoring," or "real-time scanning."

If you have already installed your software, start the program and find the options or settings area. Make sure that ongoing, real-time, or background virus scanning is turned on.

Keep antivirus software up to date

Antivirus programs must update themselves regularly to stay effective against new viruses. Most of these updates are free, but some providers charge a small fee for the updates. If you are using an older version of a program, you might also have to pay to upgrade to a more recent version in order to continue to receive the updates.

Most antivirus programs are designed to update themselves automatically, but you can also update your program manually. To do so, go to your antivirus software provider's Web site and go to the downloads section. Find the update for your version of the program and your operating system.

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