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Maintaining Your Computer

Ward off computer viruses

By Mark Reed

To lose one's health renders science null, art inglorious, strength unavailing, wealth useless, and eloquence powerless. - Herophilus, ancient Greek physician

If you’ve read technology news lately, chances are you’ve heard of one of several high-profile computer virus threats being spread through e-mail.

While the threats may sound alarming, with some common sense and a dose of protection, you can ward off even the most malicious of millennial maladies and insidious Internet illnesses.

What is a computer virus?
A computer virus is a program or piece of code that is designed to copy itself into other programs stored in your computer, and then spread itself from one computer to another. Viruses can be benign and not cause harm, or they can have any of a number of negative effects on your system.

Virus programs are written by computer programmers or hackers--usually with malicious intent--and are typically spread through shared documents, spreadsheets, executable files, software programs, or floppy disks. Viruses can do anything from displaying random messages or sounds, to damaging data, to wiping out the contents of your hard disk.

Sound scary? Perhaps, but thankfully it doesn’t need to be. Protecting your computer and your data is as simple as using anti-virus software tools to detect and eliminate viruses. Think of it as a flu shot for your computer.

An ounce of prevention
Microsoft strongly recommends that you always use up-to-date anti-virus software on your system. An anti-virus software program will scan your existing files and folders, check new documents and programs, and perform periodic checks of your system for viruses. If a virus is found on your computer, the tools can help to eliminate it and repair your files.

After you install your anti-virus software, it should be set up to automatically check all new CDs and disks, e-mail attachments, and files or software you download from the Internet. Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date, because new viruses are being written all the time. The best place to find current virus information is on the Internet, so make sure the company that supplies your anti-virus software maintains a Web site with information on current virus threats and upgrades to your anti-virus software.

Where to find virus protection
Anti-virus programs are widely available from a number of third-party vendors. Microsoft Plus! 98 for Windows 98 includes McAfee VirusScan®, Network Associates' top-selling anti-virus software, or Microsoft support has a list of anti-virus software vendors, complete with contact information and Web site addresses.

Many of these vendors offer free trial versions of their software for you to evaluate. Download and use one of these anti-virus utilities, and you’ll have little to worry about when it comes to computer viruses. If only preventing the common cold were so easy!

Mark Reed
Mark Reed
may be afraid of flu shots, but his anti-virus software is always up-to-date.

Virus: A malicious program or piece of code that attaches itself to programs on your computer, and can cause anything from harmless messages to a complete system crash.


Anti-virus software: Software specifically designed to detect and prevent virus programs.


For more detailed information about computing viruses, see MSN Computing Central’s Common Questions About Safe Computing.

Microsoft’s Using Windows pages contain many useful computing tips, including Some straightforward talk on virus prevention.