From The Help Desk... Protecting Against E-mail Viruses

In the last few months, there has been a big increase in HKU members being hit with a computer virus of some kind.  These cases were reported to the Help Desk and the PC maintenance service. The Help Desk feels that the most important thing to do now is to raise and maintain the HKU members' awareness of e-mail viruses and what steps they can take to protect themselves against these viruses. For simplicity, computer viruses and worms will both be referred to as viruses.

Lately, the spread of e-mail viruses have been quite innocent and unintentional.  The Help Desk received many reports from users that an email virus had been received from a certain sender, sometimes from someone they do not know at all.  This is because some viruses automatically emails itself to everyone in a sender's address book.

The Help Desk then tries to stop the spreading of the email virus by identifying and contacting the virus sender as soon as possible. For staff users, they are contacted by telephone and asked to remove the virus from their PCs before connecting to the network again. For student users, their computer accounts are inactivated so that they will contact the Help Desk to find out why they cannot access their accounts. We find that most users are not aware when their PCs are infected with a computer virus and that they had been the instrument in spreading these email viruses around. Although many of them have installed the anti-virus software, they rarely perform a live update of their anti-virus software.

In a previous article from the Helpdesk in Computer News issue 85,  the damages that a computer virus can do to your computer and the guidelines to protect your computer from being infected have been discussed.

Currently Computer Centre has a departmental license policy on Norton Anti-Virus Software for staff and faculty.  For individuals, you can go to your local computer store to purchase the software.

This article intends to bring to the fore the importance of updating your virus definitions by performing the Live Update in the Norton Anti-Virus Software.  It cannot be emphasized enough that you are not really protected against the latest viruses unless you have the latest virus definitions in your system, and it is always the newest virus that attacks you off guard.  In order words, your Norton program will not recognise that a virus is a virus if it is not defined as a virus.  There is a feature you can set in Norton Anti-Virus to schedule an update automatically.

Another important issue in using the Norton Anti-virus is to make sure your anti-virus program is "on". When it is on, the anti-virus program is protecting your system against all viruses defined in your virus definitions file.  That is why the icon for Norton Anti-virus is a tilted yellow shield for protection (see figure above).  If it is "off", there is a red cross over the yellow shield which means you are now unprotected.  Again, even if the protection is turned "on", your protection is not real if your virus definitions are not up-to-date!

In summary, remember the following precaution against email viruses
Mabel Chau
Tel: 2859 8934
Email: chaumabc@hku.hk

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