The "Melissa" virus put computer viruses on the front pages of the world's newspapers, and although it was allegedly named after a Florida topless dancer, the speed at which Melissa spread means it's time to start taking viruses more seriously. For years, I laughed off viruses--didn't even use antivirus software--but nowadays that casualness works about as well with computers as it does with sex. Protection matters.
But, first off, know that the majority of "viruses" you hear about--in frantic e-mails forwarded from colleagues or pals--are rubbish. Such as? Literally millions of e-mails have clogged the Net with warnings about "the AIDS virus," which supposedly "eats away" your memory. "When it's finished with memory, it infects your mouse . . . then it goes to your keyboard."
Nonsense. There is no such computer code.
That's why, whenever you get alerted to a new virus, your first stop should be at a site that tracks virus hoaxes. Odds are, you'll find this "menace" listed. Where to look? Two good tracking sites are "Computer Virus Myths"(http://www.kumite.com/myths) and Computer Incident Advisory Capability: Internet Hoaxes (http://ciac.llnl.gov/ciac/CIACHoaxes.html).
This scoffing doesn't mean you don't need protection. As Melissa vividly demonstrated, there are nasty viruses out there. That's why you need any of the main antivirus programs: Norton Antivirus (http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/index.html); McAfee's VirusScan (http://vil.mcafee.com/villib/alpha.asp); or Dr. Solomon's AntiVirus Toolkit (http://www.drsolomon.com/vircen/index.cfm).
The beauty of these programs (in my opinion, they're about equal in value) is that, once installed, they automatically search your drives and incoming downloads for threats to your system. This is no-brainer protection.
Then can you rest easy? Nope. You have to keep your antivirus software updated, because deviant geeks are daily issuing new viruses. To stay immune, you need to pay a monthly visit to your antivirus tool's Web site. Download any patches and updates, and you'll probably be well-guarded against the next Melissa . . . at least the cybervarieties. As for the others, just stay out of strip clubs and you'll be fine.
Robert McGarvey started exploring the online world over a decade ago with Genie, and has been writing on--and complaining about--the Net ever since. He writes about the Web for Entrepreneur, BizTravel.com and Upside.