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Using Your Head Is Best Virus Defense

May 05, 2000|ASHLEY DUNN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the "ILoveYou" computer virus swept across the globe Thursday, experts said that installing anti-virus software is only one of several steps needed to defend a computer against a catastrophic infection. The main defense, anti-virus companies say, is good old common sense.

Carey Nachenberg, chief researcher for anti-virus software maker Symantec Corp. in Santa Monica, said the first and easiest rule for computer users is to never open an e-mail attachment unless you know the sender and know what the attachment contains.

The ILoveYou virus is not a particularly advanced infection because it requires users to activate it by opening an e-mail attachment. It is similar to the Melissa virus, which struck last spring.

Experienced computer users say that anyone familiar with viruses should immediately delete the file.

Computer network administrators should filter and delete incoming e-mail with "ILOVEYOU" in the subject line and "LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs" as an attachment name.

Users also should never download programs from the Web or load programs from disks unless they trust the source.

The final rule is to regularly use anti-virus software and set it to automatically scan the computer and all incoming files. Users should also schedule their anti-virus programs to update inoculations from the maker's Web site.

The Melissa attack, technically known as a "worm," was part of a group of then-innovative infections that could duplicate and spread themselves once activated, making them move much faster than traditional viruses.

Late last year, an even more threatening computer virus, nicknamed "Bubbleboy," appeared with the ability to automatically infect a computer even without a user activating it by opening an e-mail attachment.

The ILoveYou virus is a classic example of what hackers refer to as "social engineering": the use of cunning and subterfuge to get people to activate viruses or provide secret passwords.

Who can resist an "I Love You" note from an unknown admirer?

Although anti-virus programs are now widely used, they are an inherently weak defense against viruses because they largely depend on databases that contain identifying information on thousands of previously identified viruses.

Modern computer viruses can spread so quickly that they can move around the world before anti-virus companies can find the identifying fingerprint of the virus and come up with a cure.

It can sometimes take hours for anti-virus companies to devise a cure.

Nachenberg said users of modern anti-virus programs can bolster their defenses by immediately updating their software's virus database as soon as they hear of a new virus.

Those without Internet connections are the most vulnerable because there is no fast way for them to update their anti-virus software.

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NO LOVE LOST

'ILoveYou' virus bedevils computers across globe. A1 . . . Makers of anti-virus software see stocks rise. Chart, C6

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