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Virus Self-defence Primer
how to protect your work, your time, your privacy
(a People- & Planet-Friendly Portal & Guide)

What's At Risk?

Viruses are not a joke. They can destroy your documents, crash your computer, and waste a terrible amount of time. Some can violate your privacy – potentially including passwords, credit card numbers, and personal files on your computer. Also, if you get a virus, you are risking infecting the people with whom you communicate, possibly with tragic results.

Some viruses are just a nuisance, but others can be devastating. And while some virus alerts are hoaxes, this is by no means always the case.

Prevention is much better than the cure. It's up to each of us to do our best to stay clean – and to quickly deal with infection if it occurs. Virus protection is NOT just about having anti-virus software!

The Golden Rule:

When in doubt, err on the side of caution: do not open, run, setup or install any files from sources external to your computer, including email attachments, downloads, diskettes, CDs and DVDs. Especially if it's something you don't really need – a game, a screen saver – ask yourself if it's really worth the risk.

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Seven Steps To Virus-Free Computing

(1) Beware of E-mail Attachments
Secure Your E-Mail Software
Beware of Downloads & Web Security
Install, Run, Setup, Open, Double-Click??
Caution With Diskettes
Use Virus Protection Software
Regularly Backup Your Files
plus two more...
E-Mail Etiquette
Software Diversity
More Information

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(1) Beware of E-Mail Attachments

Beware of all e-mails that include attachments – even if it seems to be coming from a trusted friend, your boss, etc. The nature of viruses is that the infection often occurs unbeknownst to either party.

To be safe, do not open or save any attachment that you had not been expecting. If you think it might be important, double-check with the sender by calling or e-mailing them. Better yet, ask the sender to re-send it to you as plain text. If you don't know who it's from or the subject is generic, delete it. Do this before opening a message with an attachment – or if you don't know how to tell if it has an attachment, before opening any message.

If you use software that automatically opens attachments when you select the message (such as Outlook, Eudora or Netscape) disable that feature so that you must double-click the attachment before it opens. See the next section for instructions on how to do this in the different e-mail programs.

It can also be helpful to scan your incoming mail with up-to-date anti-virus software. But note that anti-virus software alone is not a solution – prudence and common sense (regarding sending and receiving e-mail attachments) are equally or more important. Virus scanners can only detect known viruses, so have limited effectiveness.

There are many other reasons to avoid sending and receiving attachments. See: and

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(2) Secure Your E-Mail Software

The following links explain how to make your e-mail software more secure. The help menu of your e-mail software may also tell you which options or settings could be changed.

How to make Microsoft Outlook more secure:

How to make Netscape & Outlook more secure (and lots of other good info):

How to make Eudora more secure:

Pegasus Mail is a free yet very powerful e-mail program, and according to some, less vulnerable:

You might also want to download and install the latest "patches" for your e-mail software from Microsoft, Netscape, Eudora, etc.

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(3) Beware of Downloading

Every time you download software or documents from the web, you are taking a certain amount of risk. "Software" includes programs, utilities, games, screen savers, etc. Basically anything that you can "install", "setup" or "run" on your computer. Double-clicking on a program file is the same thing.

Each time you consider downloading something, ask yourself whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Before you proceed, back up your important files to disk, tape, zip drive or CD. Be sure to scan the downloaded file with up to date anti-virus software before you install, run, or open it.

Browsing the web, even without downloading anything, can also entail risks of virus infection or privacy violation. Maximizing the security settings in your browser can help. For more information, see some of the links provided at the bottom of this document.

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(4) Install, Run, Setup, Open, Double-Click?

Whether you download a file, or receive it on CD, DVD or diskette, the cautions of the previous section apply. Bootleg or other software that comes through the "grapevine" is particularly risky.

Install, run, setup, open, double-clicking on a file – these are all more or less the same thing. If the file in question is infected, it is when you do one of these actions that the infection begins to spread to other files on your computer and beyond.

If you decide to go ahead, backup your important files and scan the new disk – before installing.

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(5) Caution With Diskettes

Software/programs/games on diskettes can have become infected from any computer into which the disk has been inserted. If you decide to run/install the software, backup your important files, and scan the diskette first.

In addition, diskettes can have "boot sector" viruses. One way to prevent such an infection from getting onto your computer is to eject the diskette as soon as you are finished with the disk. This will prevent you from inadvertently leaving the disk fully inserted next time you reboot or power up.

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(6) Use Virus Protection Software

Install reputable anti-virus software and update it regularly. Hundreds of new viruses are discovered each month. Free updates of your anti-virus software are often provided free for a specified period of time. Be sure to learn how to use and update your anti-virus software.

Scan all new downloads and CD's. Also scan all CD-R, CD-RW and diskettes that might have been in another machine since the last time you scanned them.

Note that even the best virus protection software is far from fail-proof. It's a game of cat and mouse. Whether or not you have anti-virus software, you should still follow the other tips in this document.

Here are some major brands of anti-virus software: (Norton)
(search "anti virus software" to find more)

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(7) Regularly Backup Your Files
– to another disk, CD, zip drive, or tape

What would happen if all your documents, e-mail, address books, electronic calendars, spreadsheets, databases... were suddenly to disappear from your computer? How much work would it take to rewrite them all from scratch? Would they be lost forever?

Your files are vulnerable in a variety of ways, in addition to viruses. Computer crashes, user error, hard disk failure, software errors ("bugs"), thunderstorms, wear and tear... each of these can result in a sudden loss of data, without warning.

If the unexpected death of your hard drive would be more than a slight inconvenience to you, you should consider implementing a proper backup strategy.

So back up your files to a tape, CD, zip disk or server on a regular basis. It's best to have at least two sets distinct of sets backups, preferably more. For example, if you back up weekly, one week you would backup to disk #1, and the next week to disk #2.

If you spend many hours doing work on your computer that you would not want to lose, it's not a bad idea to back up daily. If you only backup your documents and other data (and not all your software and Windows itself), the backup should only take a few minutes at most.

Other backup tips:
* if all your documents and other data are kept in one "tree" of folders on your hard drive, the backup process can be much easier
* diskettes can also be used for quick backups of a file you're currently working on
* keep your backups away from sunlight, electricity, dust, moisture, heat, magnets.
* storing one backup "off site" should also be considered.

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(8) E-Mail Etiquette

Good e-mail etiquette can help prevent the spread of viruses – and improve the effectiveness of your communications.

Send plain text e-mail if possible. Plain text e-mails do not carry the same risk of virus infection as do attachments. Also, plain text is accessible to everyone (while attachments require the recipient to have a particular program). Text is much smaller and faster, and requires less handling on the part of the recipient. You can make it more attractive by using small paragraphs, horizontal lines where appropriate, and by keeping the width of the lines short (by pressing enter after every sixty characters or so). I don't recommend sending your e-mail as HTML though, because not everyone will be able to read your message as intended. There is also some debate about the potential for HTML viruses.

Include a plain text copy of your attachment. When sending an attachment – especially if unsolicited – always copy the text from the attachment and paste at least part of it, as plain text, into body of the e-mail message. At the very least, type a brief summary of the attachment. Not only is this considerate to your recipient, but it will help ensure your message actually gets read. Many people won't even consider opening an attachment if they don't first know something about it.

Use a good subject line. Always include a subject line that clearly explains the nature of the message to your intended recipients (and others to whom the message could be forwarded). The person to whom you are mailing might receive hundreds of e-mails daily, and has to judge the message by its subject line. The first few words of the subject line should be specific keywords that clearly summarize the nature of your message. Anything after the first 40 or so characters could be cut off in transit.

Include an alternate means of contact. It is often a good idea to include an alternate means of contact such as a phone number, fax, website, or maybe a mailing address. You can do this automatically by setting up a "signature" in your e-mail software. If we depend too much on e-mail; we begin to exclude other valuable forms of communication. Of course, there are times when you might decide not to include your phone number, for example a young woman who is e-mailing a stranger.

For more e-mail tips, see:

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(9) Support Software Diversity

"Support Software Biodiversity – use non-Microsoft products. Even if you use [Microsoft] Windows as your basic operating system, you can still find better alternatives to the Microsoft-produced default software programs you probably use for important daily tasks."
See also "Boycott Microsoft", below.

E-mail Software and Internet Service Provider (ISP) Selection (Section 10: Choose E-mail Software Carefully)

Open Source Software and the Open Source Movement

Personal, Social & Political Concerns

The internet has become our most important information commons, vitally important to democracy and society. Responsible individuals and organizations must work together to ensure that it is not destroyed by viruses and spam – nor manipulated by corporations that may be using the politics of viruses and spam to their own ends. Free speech and democratic communications are much more important to a healthy society and a sustainable future – more important than merely "protecting" people from spam and viruses.

Anti-Spam Bills, Blocking & Filtering – Worse Than Spamming?

Is Microsoft Criminally Negligent for the proliferation of viruses?

Boycott Microsoft (anti-Microsoft superlist)

Idiocy Imperils the Web,3959,1115152,00.asp (2)

Internet Abuse Links

Internet Standards

"It needs to be remembered that the viruses that attack various email packages, primarily those from Microsoft, are not the result of accidents. They are the result of deliberate design flaws, where adequate security warnings were provided by the standards bodies that documented the Email standards. [...] The important part to remember is that Microsoft was warned before they wrote or released the relevant software, and they deliberately ignored the security warnings contained in the standards documents. These critical security related design flaws have still not been fixed almost 7 years later. [...] Some members of the IETF believe that Microsoft should be held accountable as criminally negligent for the proliferation of these viruses."

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(10) More Info on Viruses & Safe Computing

Idiocy Imperils the Web,3959,1115152,00.asp (2)

Protecting Your Data From Viruses & Worms

Protecting Your System From E-mail Viruses & Worms
(top section on "Preventative Measures")

"How Viruses Spread by E-mail"

"How to Protect Against Computer Viruses",4161,2248291,00.html
(click on "text continues")

Reporting centre for internet security problems

Internet security for activists

More Links, Articles, Tutorials::
Anti-Virus (2)
Security (2)
Internet Security Tutorials
Internet Abuse

Microsoft Corporation's internet "Privacy & Security Fundamentals"
(see also "Support Software Diversity", above).

– Peter Blanchard

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Copyright (c) 2003 by Peter Blanchard. All rights reserved. This copyright protects Peter's right to future publication of his work. Nonprofit, activist, and educational groups may circulate this document (forward it, reprint it, translate it, post it, or reproduce it) for nonprofit uses. Please do not change any part of it without permission. Please keep this copyright notice with it. Readers are invited to visit the original document:

Disclaimer there is no warranty, express or implied, as to the accuracy, reliability, utility or completeness of this information.

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