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03-21-03: Area computer users need to put up their guard
The Daily Standard
    A dose of anti-virus medicine could save Internet surfers a lot of grief, but many computer buffs refuse to guard themselves against the ruthlessness of today's high-tech hackers.
    Hundreds of thousands of personal and business computers around the world are invaded by viruses each month. Floppy disks, e-mails and even participation on Internet chat rooms can lead bugs on a fast track to your computer, experts say. Some of the viruses are funny, others are just down right annoying. Most will cost the average Internet surfer some bucks and a whole lot of headaches.
    Several local experts told The Daily Standard that the best virus prevention is anti-virus software - a necessity for anyone with Internet access.   Special software
    "All e-mail and floppy disks should be run through some type of anti-virus software before opening," said Linda Zimmerman, a technical support provider for Bright.net in Wapakoneta. "I've been on the Internet here for eight years, and I still run everything through anti-virus before opening."
    Zimmerman said Bright.net customers have access to a free program called "AVG," which scans all files for viruses. If a virus is found, the program identifies it then puts the file into a "vault," so to speak, so it cannot be accessed.
    Most anti-virus programs can be purchased for $35 to $65 and installed easily. Sometimes it takes only minutes to detect corrupt files hidden among thousands.
    West Central Ohio Internet Link (WCOIL), based in Lima, also offers incoming and outgoing virus scans for its customers. If a virus is discovered, WCOIL technicians advise customers to have their computers seen by expert technicians.
    "Viruses can be nasty to get off computers," said WCOIL's Technical Support Manager Sharon Anderson. "Some can completely disable your computer by attacking the mother board."
    A virus called "Melissa" was labeled a high-threat several years ago when it surfaced across the country and made its appearance in the Grand Lake St. Marys area. It attacked the mother board, the brain of a computer, and many times left computer owners with disabled equipment. Cost of repair
    "It costs well over $100 in parts and labor to repair or replace a mother board," Anderson said. "With the types of anti-virus software available today, there are less and less problems with viruses like Melissa going undetected."
    Anderson puts her confidence in Norton Anti-Virus software, which can be periodically updated online to detect new viruses. "It's like insurance you can't do without," she added.
    Anderson said not all viruses destroy files, some just irritate.
    "There's one called the 'annoying virus,' which makes your icons move away from your mouse pointer," she said. "It's kind of funny at first, until you realize it's nearly impossible to operate your computer."
    Another bug circulating locally is the "Jdbgmgr.exe hoax," which tries to convince computer users to delete important files that allegedly are corrupt. What the virus really does is scare people into deleting files that are essential to the computer, Anderson explained.
    The Grand Lake St. Marys area is certainly not immune the virus problem, according to Laurie Hendricks, a customer relations employee for American Computer Center Inc. of Celina.
    "Customers first reactions are, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to lose everything in my computer,' " said Hendricks.
    Hendricks said she reassures her clients that losing their files due to a virus is not likely, although it depends on the severity of the virus contracted. There are a lot of misconceptions, she added.
    "Most customers don't understand how they got a virus in the first place. They think if they don't open e-mails from strangers, they're safe," Hendricks said. "But there's more to it than that."
    Many of the viruses circulating today use the e-mail address book of the computer they attack to spread the infection to others - innocent recipients who believe they're opening an e-mail from an acquaintance. The scam is called "spoofing." Once you've opened the virus-infected e-mail, your computer is invaded. A bug.
    One such bug called the "Klez virus" is currently circulating locally. The subject line on an e-mail corrupted by Klez can be deceiving to an unsuspecting victim. It might read something like, "Don't miss this" or "Reply to your request" to entice the recipient to open it.
    Most viruses today cause minimal damage and appear less frequently, thanks to anti-virus software and leery computer owners who have felt the sting of a bug. However, new strains emerge every day, every minute.
    "It's like a game we're forced to play day after day," Zimmerman said.


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