Just returned from vacation? Ready to plop down in front of the computer and catch up on e-mail? Think first. The spate of viruses in the last weeks means that home and work computers are poised to launch a secondary round of infection. If loose lips used to sink ships, a careless double-click on an attachment can sink systems. The flood of waiting spam complicates matters, for one thing because it's so tedious to click through, and because the phony messages generated by the SoBig virus look like ordinary spam. They blur into one stream of annoyance and lost productivity.
Home users need to be more careful, since more than 60% don't have current anti-virus software, according to a TechTV report. However, much of the problem is inherent in Microsoft Corp.'s global dominance. Because Microsoft strictly limits computer makers and system administrators from altering its operating systems and embedded software, which run on more than 90% of the world's personal computers, hackers can get into hundreds of millions of computers by exploiting a single vulnerability. Buy a list of millions of e-mail addresses for as little as $15 and you're on your way.
Keeping computers updated is a cumbersome process. It usually means knowing whatever new flaw a hacker has identified in Microsoft Outlook, the company 's buggy e-mail vehicle, and plugging into the Microsoft Web site to load a corrective patch. The company declines to provide human help to consumers.