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Dealing with Viruses

Email viruses have been some of the fastest spreading pieces of electronic mischief in the last few years. These viruses arrive on your computer as an attachment to an email message. If you open the attachment, your computer becomes infected. While different viruses do different things, many fill up your hard disk, or damage or erase your files. These viruses may also spread themselves to everyone in your email address list by sending them messages with the infected attachment without your knowledge.

Why are these viruses spreading so easily?

Unwariness. People just aren't being careful enough regarding what they open in their mailbox. Typically, you should be wary of attachments ending in .exe (executable file), .vbs (Visual Basic script), .scr (screensaver) or .js (Java script), as these are actual program files that could potentially wreak havoc.

Note: Just because an attachment doesn't have these extensions, isn't an excuse to avoid caution before opening it! Sometimes viruses can be found in Microsoft Word or Excel files.

A good rule of thumb is to make sure you know the person sending the attachment and understand what the attachment is before opening it. Remember, however, that many email viruses will send themselves to everyone in a person's Address Book. What looks like a message from a friend or relative may be a malicious virus waiting to wreak havoc.

When in doubt, send a message to the person sending an attachment first, confirming that he or she intended to send it to you. Getting a virus protection program and making sure that you always have the latest anti-virus definition updates can't hurt either, though even this may not catch 100 percent of email viruses.

Steps to take if you receive an unexpected attachment:

  1. Contact the person who sent the attachment first, asking them to confirm that they intended to send it to you.
  2. Scan the attachment with virus protection software if available.
  3. Try to understand what the attachment is before opening it. Pictures (.jpg .gif .bmp) and text files (.txt) are usually harmless, while strange screensavers and dialer programs may not be.

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