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Extension Technology and
Computer Services

 

University of Missouri-Columbia   Extension Technology and Computer Services—ETCS

 
  April 1999
Vol. 16, No. 4



A Technology Newsletter for Extension Specialists

 

 

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Computer Viruses:
Yes You Can Catch One From a Friend

by Bill McFarland

There are many things in the computer field that are particularly frustrating. At this time, viruses are at the top of my list. If you read any newspaper, or listen to any national news on radio or TV on or soon after Friday, April 2, you should have heard of "Melissa".   don't think anyone in Extension got this one, but there was some scrambling on campus, and you may have noticed a change in the first 50 mailbox entries in the Outlook global address book. Unfortunately viruses are plentiful, and getting easier to create. This is easily seen when you consider the intelligence of the guy who did the Melissa virus in such a way that the FBI could track it down and caught him in a week.

This virus was created within a Word document and transmitted as an attached E-mail file. This is typically the way viruses are being created and spread now. They are called macro viruses, not because of their size, but because they are created within a Word macro, or an Excel macro. They are known as viruses because once a machine gets infected, the virus knows how to multiply and spread. Therefore, if your machine gets infected you could be spreading the virus and not know it.

For instance, a regional director called me recently and said his computer was reporting a virus in a Word file that he had received from a colleague on campus by E-mail. When he tracked that down, the campus person had received the file from a person in the state government. I didn't care to go any further than that. This is the problem that we are facing. In our connected world today, you are going to get computer viruses. They can even come to you from a trusted friend.

What can you do? This is what anti-virus software is for. Detecting and stopping the spread of viruses. But it doesn't work very well if you aren't using it. And old anti-virus software may not be able to catch new viruses. The University has a site license with one of the leading anti-virus companies, Network Associates-they were interviewed in the national news with the story about Melissa. We make the most current version available to you on the Share drive. You will find it at S:\MUCampus\ETCS\Anti-Virus\VirusScan. If you don't have an S: drive, you can get to this share server through Netscape or Internet Explorer. Enter the URL of http://UOEshare.ext.missouri.edu/share. Then click through the same structure as above. Start with downloading the Instructions.doc. The latest software is McAfee Virus Scan. This replaces Dr. Soloman's Anti-Virus software. Network Associates has merged these two anti-virus packages. The files are getting large (10 MB), and it will take some time to download and install this software. Then our instructions tell you how to get the latest virus update, a process which delivers the update files over the Internet to your computer. Thank goodness all county offices are connected now. Plan about one hour to get your machine setup for this latest anti-virus protection. Even if you just installed Dr. Solomon's last month, you need to do this now.

A final note about being virus sensitive. Since most of the recent virus problems have come inside Word as a macro virus, you should be very suspicious if an attached Word file is shown to have a macro in it. Your Word should be configured so that it warns you that a macro is present in a document as it is opening it. To insure you have this on, go to Tools/Options/General tab, and see that there is a check in the box beside Macro virus projection. Three rules for safe computing:

  1. Keep your anti-virus software up to date, and delete files that are found to have a virus. Inform the person who sent you the infected file, and ETCS.
  2. Don't open a Word or Excel file that has a macro in it. If you must open the document, disable the macro.
  3. NEVER run (double click) a file that you receive via E-mail as an attached file if it ends in ".exe". This means you will never see that cute little cartoon that your cousin sent you, but it also means you will never run a program that erases your hard drive without you knowing it, until it is too late.
 

 

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