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Does Your Computer Need A WOF? 3 October 2002 Edition
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I'm always astounded by the sheer stupidity of some people when it comes to the issue of email-borne viruses.

The rapid proliferation of the latest virus known as BugBear is further proof that some people should be banned from getting within 20 metres of a PC.

Time and time again, computer users have been told how to avoid becoming infected by these nasty little pieces of code -- yet time and time again many ignore this advice and find themselves contributing to the problem by hosting and inadvertently distributing a virus.

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What's also surprising is that it's not just the naive users who are getting hit.

Full marks to IDG for fessing up to the fact that someone there had been dumb enough to ignore the rules and open an unsolicited email attachment, thus infecting their entire network (see the news links below).

Marks off however, for not making sure that each and every employee has the very simple basics of virus avoidance drummed into them. Maybe it would be worth printing out this list (PDF) of simple steps and pinning it over their computers?

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    But, if we can't trust computer users to act sensibly, perhaps we ought to look elsewhere if we want to stem the spread of new viruses.

    Many ISPs have installed virus filters in an effort to halt the spread of email-borne nasties, and this does work quite well for established and well-known viruses such as Klez.

    However, the problem with virus filters, and anti-virus software for that matter, is that it relies on the accuracy and timeliness of pre-programmed scanning patterns so will only work against "known threats". There's always going to be a "window of opportunity" between the time when a virus is released and the time when the filters are updated, during which new viruses will be allowed to pass, undetected.

    Indeed, it's quite possible that some Net users have developed a false sense of security that their ISP's filters will protect them from infection and are, as a result, less likely to take as much care as they should.

    Maybe ISPs ought to implement a system that checks a user's PC to ensure the OS, browser and email clients are patched to the latest levels at all times -- or they're denied access to send and receive email.

    This would amount to a virtual warrant of fitness for the PC and if your system wasn't up to standard then the only websites you'd be allowed to access would be those you needed to get the required updates.

    After all, it's quite likely that a huge percentage of those machines infected by BugBear aren't running the patches that stop the automatic execution of carefully crafted viral attachments.

    Of course this would never fly. For obvious reasons no ISP is going to risk offending a paying customer and those who couldn't be bothered keeping their software up to date would simply migrate to whatever ISP was not implementing such a system. As a result, the problem wouldn't be solved, just relocated.

    No, the buck really has to stop with the end-user.

    Whether you're an individual PC user or in charge of a large network of PC users then I really recommend that you download and print this anti-virus checklist (PDF) or create your own.

    In a corporate situation, circulate a copy of this list to all personnel and have them sign it to indicate that they are now aware of their obligations when it comes to handling incoming email.

    Make sure another copy is pinned directly over their PC -- and try sending them a "test email" at random intervals. Those who open the unsolicited attachment can be dragged over the coals and reminded of their obligations.

    If you want to have your say on the contents of today's column then please do so. Only comments marked "For Publication" will (if I have time) be published in the readers' comments section.

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    Security Alerts
    Flaw in Word can allow file theft (TheAge - 13/09/2002)

    File-name flaw threatens PGP users (ZDNet - 06/09/2002)

    Microsoft reveals security hole (NewsFactor - 02/09/2002)

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    Security flaw hits Windows, Mac, Linux (NewsFactor - 7/08/2002)

    Virus Alerts
    Virus pursues your credit card details (ZDNet - 02/10/2002)

    Linux server worm exploits known flaw
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