By Doug Carner
It seems as though we read about a new "killer" computer virus nearly every month. Each threat stirs a new wave of virus-protection software updates. While anti-virus programs are quick to react, they are often merely the cure to the illness your computer suffers, not a preventive measure. On some computers, anti-virus software can keep your business programs from operating correctly--especially those with automatic serial-port communications, such as self-storage software that processes overnight gate access or rent collections by credit card.
For the virus writers, it is a game of cat and mouse with your valuable computer files caught in the precarious balance. There are some amazingly simple steps you can take that will prevent most viruses from ever entering your computer. In this case, more than ever, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But first, it would be helpful to understand how a computer virus works.
Every known virus is a set of instructions designed to carry out a malicious task on a specific date or event. Some viruses pass script commands to naive sections of the Windows operating system. The default Windows settings permit script viruses to penetrate deep into your computer while you innocently read an infected e-mail. Other viruses are completely self-contained programs that rely solely on their internal components. These viruses mask as harmless e-mail attachments that beg for you to double-click and install.
This is part one of a two-part series on PC safety. You can execute a few simple steps to safeguard your precious business files. You will instantly be vaccinated against all known script viruses and have reasonable protection from most program viruses. These tips are applicable to Windows 98 operating systems. Not all of these steps will be available in other versions of Windows.
Give yourself immediate protection against the most common script viruses, such the infamous Melissa virus that took the nation by storm in March 1999. Melissa was a macro virus for Microsoft Word 97 and 2000 that used Microsoft Outlook to send itself to lots of people very quickly without detection. The virus spread like wildfire in company e-mail systems and across the Internet, causing havoc in places such as the home offices of Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp., among many others. Here are some steps to protect your system from similar viruses:
- Once you've turned on your computer and you're at the desktop, click on the START button (usually located in the lower left-hand corner of the desktop). Select the SETTINGS option and then select the CONTROL PANEL option.
- Double-click on the ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS option.
- Click on the tab for WINDOWS SETUP.
- Highlight the item marked ACCESSORIES and then click on the DETAILS button. A sub-list will appear.
- Move down through the list of choices and remove the check mark next to WINDOWS SCRIPTING HOST.
- Click OK to save your changes and then click OK to close the ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS window.
- Close the CONTROL PANEL.
You can also add a barrier of protection by requiring a password before any outside program can access your files. Here's how:
- Double-click on the desktop icon called MY COMPUTER. A list of mapped computer drives will appear.
- Right-click once on the "C:" drive and a new menu will appear.
- Click on the SHARING option, and a new screen will appear. If you do not see this option, you already have SHARING protection and should skip ahead to the last step.
- Select SHARED AS and provide a shared name (typically the letter "C").
- Click in the check box next to DEPENDS ON PASSWORD so a check mark appears.
- Enter a common office password in the box labeled FULL ACCESS.
- Click on OK to save your changes.
Repeat the above steps for each hard drive you want to protect.
Do you work on a network of computers that need to share each other's files? If not, why give the Internet world the right to share your computer files?
- Right click on the desktop icon labeled NETWORK NEIGHBORHOOD and a small menu will appear.
- Within that new menu, click on the PROPERTIES option and a new NETWORK screen will appear.
- Click on the FILE AND PRINT SHARING tab to open the sub-window.
- Remove the check mark next to the option that reads "I want to give others access to my files."
- Click on OK to save your changes and click on OK to close the NETWORK window.
- If Windows asks for permission to restart your computer, let it do so now.
Here's how to stop unauthorized Macros (embedded scripts) from running when you load a document:
- Open Microsoft Word.
- Select the TOOLS menu. Then select MACRO, then the SECURITY option.
- Change the setting to HIGH. Click OK and then exit the program.
- Repeat these steps for every program that supports this option. Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint are the most common Microsoft programs that have Macro security options.
In next month's column, I will continue with part two of "Protect Your PC" and offer steps toward protecting your computer against the deadliest of viruses and communicating via the Internet.
Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based company specializing in security, software and management for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.quikstor.com.