Publicity about computer viruses has made most users aware of this ongoing threat. But have you done anything about it? You should. Protecting your PC is one of the smartest moves you can make.
Some viruses simply display annoying messages; others cause disasters. Viruses can modify or destroy data, overwrite files and reformat hard drives. The danger is growing: According to leading antivirus software maker Network Associates Inc., more than 17,000 viruses exist today and an additional 300 appear every month.
Now, with widespread Internet access, the danger has multiplied. According to the International Computer Security Association (ICSA), infections from e-mail and Internet downloads accounted for 48 percent of reported virus incidents in 1997, up from 16 percent in 1996.
The newest peril is the macrovirus, which the ICSA says is now responsible for 70 percent of all virus infections. This type of virus is especially pernicious because it attaches itself to files, not programs. Anytime you open a shared, transmitted or attached file, you're exposed to the threat.
Your best defense is to invest in antivirus software. The two leading utilities are Norton AntiVirus (Symantec Corp., $49.95) and McAfee VirusScan (Network Associates, $29.95, or $49.95 for the latest version, which should be available by the time you read this). Both can scan your PC when you boot up or on command, let you schedule exams to run periodically, and retrieve the latest catalogs of known viruses from the Internet.
Norton AntiVirus 5.0 (NAV) protects you against infection from the Internet, e-mail attachments, floppy disks, shared files and networks. Its new Bloodhound technology claims to detect and disinfect 100 percent of known viruses. Like NAV, McAfee VirusScan claims to detect and disinfect 100 percent of known viruses and protects you from the same outside sources of contamination as NAV.
Both Symantec (http://www.symantec.com) and Network Associates (http://www.mcafee.com) offer updates on their products. Symantec offers free updates for one year; Network Associates, for the life of the product. Both companies also offer online information on viruses: See the background papers posted at http://www.networkassociates.com/vinfo and http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/refa.html
If you're on a tight budget, you can download free or low-cost antivirus software from Web sites such as Download (http://www.download.comand Shareware.com (http://www.shareware.com). Many of these programs will do the job, though you'll need to update them eventually.
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Robert Schmidt (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a computer and business writer in Culver City, California.
Cougar Mountain Software, (800) 388-3038, http://www.cougarmtn.com