Safe Computing Practices

There are some relatively simple things you can do to help protect yourself from viruses and worms (safe hex). Consider those listed on this page.

There are some common sense things you can do to help protect yourself against viruses and worms.

  • Update AV Software. Obviously, the first and foremost save computing practice would be to make certain you keep your anti-virus software up to date. Do this at least daily; more often if there are news reports of a new fast-spreading virus or worm (though you might note that widespread news reports almost always overestimate the threat!).
  • Safe Boot Disk. Most anti-virus software has an option for creating a safe boot disk which can be used to clean-boot the computer and, perhaps, also scan for viruses. This safe boot disk should be recreated now and again if it allows for virus scanning. It’s important that it contains the latest virus database.
  • Hard Disk Boot. Change your boot sequence so that the hard disk is the first boot disk instead of the floppy disk or CD drive. It’s really easy to leave a disk in a drive and if that disk happens to be infected with a boot sector virus then the next time you start the computer the hard disk will become infected. If the disk or disc is not accessed, that infection won’t take place. The boot sequence is changed in your BIOS setup information and can be switched back when you need to boot from an alternate disk.
  • Use RTF Not DOC. Don’t accept any Word .DOC or Excel .XLS files from anyone. If you absolutely need formatted text to edit tell people to send you a Rich Text Format (.RTF) file. But, be careful none-the-less. There are macro viruses that intercept the request to save to RTF and save the file in DOC format with an RTF extension. Word will unfortunately ignore the RTF extension and open the file as a DOC file. To be certain, you can open the RTF file in a plain text editor to make certain it’s plain text, as an RTF file should be. It is also possible to embed objects into RTF files. These also could be malicious. RTF is not as safe as many make it out to be. If the file has to be formatted but does not need to be edited, consider asking for it in PDF format instead.
  • Consider Alternate Software. In the politest sense this would be a recommendation to switch to software that is not as likely to be affected by viruses/worms. For many offices a switch away from Word, Excel, and Outlook/Outlook Express would be difficult as these programs came as standard software on many systems. But, it’s worth consideration. The SuiteWeb Link is a good alternative to consider and its price is right: free.
  • Don’t Open Attachments. Be picky and stubborn: do not accept, run, or open any unsolicited attachments to E-mail. This may seem a bit extreme but in today’s world where worms send themselves out via personal address books you can’t really trust anything coming from anyone; even if you know them.
  • Turn off Preview. No matter what E-mail software you use, turn off the preview function. Most that preview formatted messages use IE components that have proven themselves less than secure.
  • Disable Scripting. Turn off the Windows Scripting Host if you don’t need it. Scripts are just fancy macros that can apply across programs and are a major vehicle for worms. Instructions here.
  • Show Extensions. Set all programs to show you the full file name, particularly E-mail programs. If your program drops the extension you don’t really know if the attachment is executable or not. For instructions on showing file extensions in an Explorer window see this FILExt FAQWeb Link
  • Protect Floppies. Write-protect any floppy disk you place into another person’s computer. If their computer is infected with a boot sector virus at least yours won’t be.
  • Don’t Boot from Unknown Devices. Like floppies, USB devices and CDs can be used as boot devices. Don’t let someone come in with a device and allow them to start your computer from that device.
  • Keep Up. Keep up with the latest security patches for all the programs you use.
  • Get Info. Consider subscribing to the virus alert E-mail notices your anti-virus software maker probably puts out. This is a two-edged sword, however. Many people will find they are getting many notices about viruses that they’ll never see. You have to judge the inconvenience versus the information.
  • Backup. Finally, but most importantly: backup, backup, backup!
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