Years ago when I first heard someone say their computer might have a virus, I imagined a tired, feverish machine with a hacking cough. You've got to be kidding, I thought. Computers don't get sick. Then, after hearing stories about evildoers who spread viruses among all the good machines, I was sure that viruses were just another conspiracy theory gone awry. I mean, why would anyone or any code want to hurt my computer? Well, it turns out computers do get sick, and there are people out there who get a kick out of making them ill. Computers can catch viruses that seriously cripple them, which, in turn, cripples you and your business.
Viruses infect your machine by attaching themselves to programs, files and start-up instructions.
There are two main types of computer viruses: macro and binary. Macro viruses are written to attack a specific program. The macro virus that has made its way into the most computers is probably the Word Concept virus. Relatively innocuous, though annoying, Word Concept changes the Save As function so documents can be saved only as template files (.DOT). Binary viruses are either actual programs designed to attack your data or attach themselves to program files to do similar destruction. Binary viruses are the ones to be concerned with; they can reformat your hard drive, wipe out data and stop your operating system from working.
The best way to fight these bugs is to avoid them--but in today's world of Internet downloads and e-mail file exchanges, this is an impossible task. To the rescue are anti-virus software programs, loaded on your computer and at the ready to protect it from any foreign invaders. There are dozens of these virus-fighting programs on the market. In this column, we review two top Macintosh-based anti-virus programs, Symantec AntiVirus for Macintosh and Datawatch Virex 5.7. Both companies offer Windows-based anti-virus programs as well. You can also find plenty of anti-virus programs on the Internet available for downloading.