Yet another type of unsolicited email you may receive may even be from someone you know.
We speak of viruses; nasty little files written with the sole purpose of doing harm.
More often lately, you hear of them on the prime time news.
As more people become Internet users, the issue will only grow worse.
There are two levels of virus awareness.
These could be termed "reasonably aware" and "paranoid".
As an Internet service provider, we at Internet Montana generally attempt the "paranoid" level.
The types of precautions you should take to reach this level are lengthy, and for expediency, the details will be left for you to study at your own convenience.
How you become reasonably aware of how one gets a computer virus, and thereby how to avoid it, is to be especially aware of types of files that you download to your computer and their source.
By Land and by Sea
Most viruses are spread via email, as an attachment.
Some typical file extensions to be alert for are: *.exe; *.com; *.scr; *.vb; *.pif; *.ldb. Actually, the list could go on forever. There are two basic questions to ask yourself:
Are you expecting an attachment sent by that person?
Do you recognize the extension of the file?
As an example, *.gif, or *.jpg (which are picture files) can be deemed safe.
Ironically, Microsoft documents cannot be automatically assumed safe.
Anything that can be scripted can be made into a virus.
That means *.doc, *.xls, *.mdb are all suspect.
The best solution? Request that all attachments be sent in a zip file.
If it's not, and if you didn't request it, email a request for confirmation that it is a legitimate attachment to the sender.
If it's something you don't recognize, it's probably not safe.
Should you make an effort to reach the paranoid level?
What you want to consider is what sort of risk you have for receiving or downloading a virus.
Most people who use Internet access primarily for private use are less likely to receive a virus through their email than one whose email address is public for business use, and used by a wider range of people.
Once you have your precautions set in place, however, it's not a complicated process to maintain.
And yet, email is not the only method by which viruses may be caught.
Files that are offered for download from websites are at risk of being infected.
And now, with the Blaster worm breaking whole new ground in virus technology, you only have to be connected to the Internet for the virus to come to you.
For that reason, we fervently stress the importance of having personal anti-virus protection installed on your computer.
There are many software packages available now that include anti-virus protection and some other stuff.
To asess whether or not you feel the need for a personal firewall, visit our article on Hackers.
Generally, however, dial-up Internet connections really only require anti-virus protection.
But don't forget you must maintain your anti-virus software.
Most anti-virus packages come with free updates for up to a year.
New viruses are written and released with every passing day.
Your software as it is today may not recognize a virus that will be written tomorrow.
So remember to download updates for your anti-virus protection every one to two weeks.