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Catching Pesky Viruses

Viruses are pretty simple in theory, they propagate themselves by self-replication. There are many types of viruses - logic bombs, memory-resident viruses, parasitic viruses but most viruses have a simple modus operandi - infect, execute payload and propagate. However, their design doesn't really matter to us. Our objective is the same - hunt down the little buggers and kill them in the most horrific ways possible.

Unlike other Internet nasties, like spywares or trojans, that generally compromise your system with the objective of stealing data or resources without your knowledge, viruses have a more insidious objective. They are mostly designed to infect your computer with the objective of harming it in some way, like corrupting your operating system or data files.

Some trojans can be said to do the same, but trojans are generally deployed to hijack your PCs for use by the attacker (e.g. in DDOS attacks). Therefore, it is in usually in the best interest of trojans writers to keep your PC up and running.

Okay, let's get to the point of this section, which is how to hunt down these pesky little buggers and putting them to sleep permanently.


Good AV Practices

When it comes to viruses, only anti-virus programs and deep-packet inspection firewalls can keep them out. We have already covered firewalls in the previous section, so we will just deal with anti-virus software in this section.

Before we get to any anti-virus software recommendations, let's go through a few good habits that everyone should have when running any anti-virus software. Remember, anti-virus software are just tools. We need to know how to make full use of them.


Regular Definition Updates

The virus scanner is only effective when it knows what to look for. With new viruses being released constantly, keeping it updated with a database of virus definitions is an absolute necessity. This is so important that all anti-virus programs come with some form of automatic Internet-based update system, so it can periodically update its virus definitions.

All you need to do is ensure it's enabled, and schedule the right time for these updates as they require a working Internet connection to download the updates. Most anti-virus programs allow you to schedule your updates, so you can decide when is the best time to do it. Here are some tips on definition updates :

  1. Schedule a time when you're probably away from the computer or not doing anything important. For example, during your lunch break or towards the end of your day. Why? Well, personally, I get annoyed when it pops up several times to inform me it's updating the definition files. If you have time-limited access to the Internet, you will of course want to schedule it when you are online.

  2. If you wish to manually update your anti-virus program, try reminding yourself by posting a note by your monitor. Seems a little bit excessive? I don't think so, and neither will you if a virus hits your PC because you forgot to update your anti-virus definitions.

  3. Virus definition isn't the only component you can update in your anti-virus software. Periodic updates allow for bug fixes and various enhancements of the anti-virus software's detection engine, and allow for better overall functionality.


The Virus Encyclopedia Is Your Friend

Most anti-virus software come with a list of viruses and descriptions of their characteristics and method of propagation. Although it would be a little hard to read up on the list if your system is infected by a hundred different viruses, it's actually useful if your anti-virus software detects a few viruses.

This is because most viruses exploit one flaw or another in the system. Reading up on them will help you find the flaw and patch it. For example, you may find a virus that spreads itself via e-mail through a flaw in the e-mail server. If so, you can look for an appropriate security patch for your e-mail server system.

It's really quite like placing a sugar cube on the floor and waiting for the ants to come. Then you follow the ants to their point of entry so you can seal it to prevent them from coming in. Yes, real life concepts do actually apply in computers. Don't believe it? Try it! You'll be surprised at the number of holes in your PC you can discover with a good virus scan and a dive into the virus encyclopedia.


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