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Ward off computer viruses

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

Those threats may sound alarming, but some common sense and a dose of protection will help you ward off even the most malicious 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. Virus programs are typically spread through shared documents, spreadsheets, executable files, software programs, or floppy disks. Specific types of virus programs include Trojan Horses and Worms.

Viruses can be benign and not cause harm, or they can have any of a number of negative effects on your system. They can display random messages or sounds, damage data, send e-mail to everyone in your address book, or even wipe out the contents of your hard disk.

Protecting your computer and your data is as simple as using anti-virus software tools to detect and eliminate viruses. It's also important to think first before opening any files sent to you in e-mail, and to turn off any features that automatically open e-mail attachments. E-mail itself cannot infect your computer, but if you open an infected executable attachment from e-mail, it can infect your computer. When downloading programs from the Internet, be sure to choose the "Save to disk" option, unless you're certain the program comes from a reliable source.

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, set it to 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 be 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
Microsoft Support has a list of anti-virus software vendors Offsite link , 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!

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