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A computer virus is essentially a tiny computer program that does
things that aren't very nice. It may reset the clock on your computer,
it may erase files, it may make copies of itself and wait to be
passed along -- basically it behaves just like a real virus. However,
until you allow it to become destructive, it just sits there.
There is only one way for an email message to cause damage to
your computer, and that is through the use of attachments.
Even still, virii require you execute/view that attachment before
the virus can begin its scheme.
If I have a virus infected file and I send that infected program
or file to you in email, it's not a problem until you try to do
something with it. This doesn't mean saving it out of email, or
even reading the email message itself, it means either executing
(runnable program) or viewing (opening in Microsoft Office, etc.)
The recommendation from CIS is that you never open an attachment
from an unknown or untrusted source,
and that to be safe, you always save the attachment to a temporary
directory and then run a virus checking software package
to verify that the file is safe.
Hoax vs. Virus
Quite often all of us will receive virus warnings in your email
cautioning us to beware of some email. Most of these warnings, if
not from a validated source, are hoaxes. We have found some great
places to determine whether these email warnings we both receive
are valid. Symantec, developers of Norton Anti-Virus, has a Virus
Encyclopedia through which you can lookup virii and potential hoaxes
by keywords. Another great resource is the Data Fellows Virus Information
Center. Data Fellows also provides a Hoax Warning database.
Anti-Virus Research Center Encyclopedia
We advise you to check here first before forwarding virus warnings
in order to safeguard against creating panic amongst your colleagues
when panic is not necessary. If these sites have not defined the
warning you are searching for, then contact the CIS
Remember, awareness is the most important factor in defending your
computer against harmful virii. Yet, the buck does not stop here.
The second piece of the puzzle is Virus Detection. Without
adequate monitoring tools, your awareness is a lost effort.