First it was Melissa, then it was the ExploreZip virus. These malicious programs invade your system through e-mail and other means, destroying files and wasting time and money. Even major corporations have been affected by the outbreak of computer viruses. Experts estimate there are more than 40,000 viruses out there.
Are you ready?
A virus is simply a piece of malicious computer code that a person puts into a program that does something, says Bruce Johnston, president of VGS Inc., a computer security consulting firm. It can range from an annoying message on your screen to deleting files on your drive.
The most common method of infection is through e-mail. Because of its widespread use, and the forwarding of jokes and other attachments between employees and people outside the company, a virus can spread rapidly.
One of the other methods for getting infected is from a well-intentioned employee who creates a Word document and wants to share it, so they put it on the disk, says Johnston.
What the employee didnt know was that a virus on their computer attached itself to the document, and when recipients open the file, the virus infects their computer as well. Files downloaded from the Internet can also be infected.
Just like viruses in the biological world, computer versions replicate themselves and spread. Dont assume that because a file is from a major corporation that it isnt infected. Johnston has detected viruses trying to enter his computer system twice both times the file in question was from a Fortune 500 company.
To defend your company, consider the following:
- Inoculate your machines. The best defense against viruses is prevention, says Johnston. Buy any of the well-known anti-virus programs on the market and install it on your computers. Configure it to check all e-mail that comes into your system and keep it running in the background at all times. If a virus is detected on a disk or file, the program will notify you of its presence and offer to eliminate it. If you have a computer network, put anti-virus programs on both the server and the desktops.
- Make virus prevention part of everyones job. Create a policy and distribute it to employees. Train them on what a virus is and how they can avoid it, including avoiding e-mail from unknown users and not opening attached files they werent expecting.
- Limit your exposure. Even with only have one computer, if employees are bringing in disks from home, you could still get infected. Make sure everything coming into your system is scanned. Discourage bringing files from home, if possible, and limit the amount of Internet downloading your employees do.
- Prepare for the worst. Always back up your files in case disaster strikes. Virus blocking programs arent infallible, especially if you dont update them frequently, so the potential exists for losing data. Back up as often as you feel necessary, determined by how much effort you are willing to spend re-keying data. If you want little disruption, back up frequently.
Todd Shryock(email@example.com) is SBNs> special reports editor.