Computer Mommy

Frequently Asked Questions:
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Computer Panic

What exactly are computer viruses?

Similar to their biological brothers, computer viruses are designed to propagate, traveling from computer to computer to perform some mischief. That mischief may be as innocent as displaying a message that reads, "This Computer is Stoned," or as fatal as wiping out every file on a hard drive. There are more than 48,000 known viruses, and 1,000 or so are active.

1. A virus consists of at least two parts: the replication code, which spreads the virus, and the payload, which is the prank or destructive part. Whoever wrote the virus inserts the virus code into an otherwise harmless program. The program -- with the virus -- is distributed through the Internet, on floppy disks, or even on commercial CD-ROMs.

2. Once you open the host program, the parent virus is activated and replicates even further. The virus spreads copies of itself to other drives on your computer and to other computers on the same network. Each of these child viruses becomes a parent virus and replicates even further.

3. A virus may remain dormant for months so it can spread without suspicion. It waits for a trigger, often a specific date to launch itself. If an infected computer boots or an infected program is launched under trigger conditions, the rest of the virus activates to deliver the payload. Typically the virus will destroy the boot record or files on your drive that have certain extensions.

4. Other viruses called worms replicate and spread with great speed. One such worm is an e-mail macro virus, such as Melissa or the Love Bug, which is distributed as an attachment to an innocent-looking message. Merely opening the message to read it activates the macro. A typical macro virus accesses your mail program's address book and sends copies of the infected message to everyone in the book. This begins a chain reaction, with each recipient perpetuating the virus. This in itself can be the macro virus's payload: jamming mail systems with so many messages that the systems are too packed to carry legitimate mail. Other macro viruses destroy files and boot records as well. A worm comes under the radar as it plants itself on the browser.

(courtesy of

What is a Trojan Horse?

This is another danger to your computer. At first glance it will appear to be useful software but will actually do damage once installed or run on your computer.

Those on the receiving end of a Trojan Horse are usually tricked into opening them because they appear to be receiving legitimate software or files from a legitimate source.

When a Trojan is activated on your computer, the results can vary. Some Trojans are designed to be more annoying than malicious (like changing your desktop, adding silly active desktop icons) or they can cause serious damage by deleting files and destroying information on your system.

Trojans are also known to create a backdoor on your computer that gives malicious users access to your system, possibly allowing confidential or personal information to be compromised. Unlike viruses and worms, Trojans do not reproduce by infecting other files nor do they self-replicate.

How Can I Protect My Computer?

You need 4 points of protection -

1. Anti-Virus Program:
You need an anti-virus program that you can set up to contact you frequently, online, to update your virus signature files (daily is good). This is not a "virus scan" - if you follow these instructions, you won't have to scan more than once a month or so. (If you don't follow these instructions, a scan will only find virus signatures that are already in your computer).

They estimate there are from 3-5 new viruses a DAY. Need I say more?

There are several good antivirus programs - two that are easy to use are: Norton AntiVirus and McAfee Virus Shield. They are available at any store that sells computer software including Staples and Wal-Mart and cost $40-50. Many new computers come with one of these installed on it. In addition, many ISP's (Internet Service Provider) provide an anti-virus program for free. Also many new computers come with an anti-virus that's ready to activate.

If you buy the program yourself, you will have a year's subscription to the service. If it's already installed, you will have a 3-9 month subscription. In any case, at the end of the period, you will be notified that it is about to expire. It is VERY important that you take the time to renew. The renewal costs about $30-$50 for a year - you'll need to have your credit card ready. Since some anti-virus companies are now charging for phone calls (or there's no toll-free number available), it's best to renew online. This is a safe use of your credit card as you initiated the contact and it's to a "secure" site.

When you install the program, you will be guided through setting up a schedule of updates (Norton calls it LiveUpdate). Set this up to contact the website of the company daily or every time you go online. This way, whenever you go online, you will be getting any new signatures and you will be protected. If you already have one of these programs on your computer, go to your "Start" button, hover over "Programs," slide your mouse pointer over and click "Norton Antivius" or "McAfee Virus Shield." Once the program window opens, look for a command or button that says "Schedule" or "Options" and set it up to update daily.

You should only have one antivirus program on your computer. If your computer came with one and your Internet Service Provider gives you a different one, they will conflict with each other. Check with Tech Support to find out how to uninstall one.

2. Firewall:
A firewall makes your computer "invisible" to attack from the outside.
Since a broadband connection (cable or DSL), is always connected to the internet whenever the computer is on, you must have this, in addition to an antivirus program. .

Everyone needs a firewall!

Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows7 have a firewall as part of it. To make sure it's turned on, go to Start | Control Panel

If your Control Panel looks like this, click the down arrow next to "View by" in the upper right hand corner








You can choose large or small icons

You will then see icons & your Control Panel will be much easier to read.



Control Panel Catagories

Now look for the "Windows Firewall" icon:

Firewall Icon

Double-click it. Be sure there's a dot next to "On (recommended)." If not, put a dot there and click OK

Again, you can only have one firewall. If one is provided by your Internet Service Provider, go into the Windows Firewall and turn it off.

A firewall can protect you from Worms and Trojan Horses.

3. Next - Automatic Updates:

Microsoft sends out free updates about once a month. You should set your computer to download these automatically. Look for the Automatic Update icon in the Control Panel:

Automatic Updates Icon

Double-click it. The "automatic update" setting, should be turned on. The "default" setting is "Every day at 3:00AM (change this to a time when your computer will be on). Click "Apply" and OK.

Never accept an email that says you can download the patch right from the email (this is a virus that pretends to be from Microsoft). Microsoft will ALWAYS give you a notice in a little yellow bubble in the lower right hand corner. It's safe to click on that.

4. Anti-spyware

What is Spyware?
A program sent to your computer by an unscrupulous company that sends personal information about you and/or your computer usage back to the company.

Three really good spyware removal programs are Search & Destroy and Ad-Aware SE Personal. Since each checks for spyware in a slightly different way, and all are free, download them. They have a simple link for updates.Check for updates and run them about once a week

Some Internet Service Providers are giving their customers free anti-spyware programs. Be sure to turn these on. I've seen SpySweeper and SpyDoctor - both excellent programs.

In addition, you might want to download Malwarebytes. You can have more than one of these programs and since they all check in different ways, one might find something that another doesn't.

You need all four to be protected!

  1. Anti-virus
  2. Firewall
  3. Updates
  4. Anti-spyware

Email Courtesy:

Don't ever leave the subject line blank - some creators of viruses leave this blank on purpose or the subject lines will have bad English or bad grammar in them - be really clear what you're sending.

Do's and Don'ts to creating a Password:

  • Don't use only letters or only numbers.
  • Don't use names of spouses, children, girlfriends/boyfriends or pets.
  • Don't use phone numbers, Social Security Numbers or birthdates.
  • Don't use the same word as your log-in, or any variation of it.
  • Don't use any word that can be found in the dictionary
  • Don't use passwords with double letters or numbers
  • Don't use passwords that are personal and easy to guess.
  • Don't store passwords in a file on any computer system without encryption
  • DO create a password that is at least 8 characters in length.
  • DO use a combination of numbers, keyboard characters and upper- and lower-case letters.
  • DO create a password that you will remember. (It isn't recommended that you use the "Remember Password" feature offered by some applications.)

(Courtesy of Monson Savings Bank)

Other information:
Never disclose a password to anyone online, ever -- under ANY circumstances! Really, NEVER

Run programs such as America Online's Instant Messenger only when needed.
Be very careful with the IM file-transfer feature; a firewall won't block files sent to you this way because they piggyback on the file-transfer application itself, so you're creating an entrée for a virus.

Don't forward any e-mail warning about a new virus. It may be a hoax or outdated. Check for hoaxes at or Snopes.

All antivirus software companies offer an e-mail virus alert service. Sometimes they just stop the virus as it tries to enter and let you know it did it.

What is "Phishing?"

Pronounced "fishing" An email or website that appears to come from Ebay, your bank, etc. requesting your password, Social Security number or other personal information. NEVER respond to one of these. Look for "https" (s for secure) in the web address.

What is Spam?

This is junk email. Just like the junk snail mail that clutters up your regular mail box, this will clutter up your email box. It is unsolicited commercial email, sent by a company that has no existing business relationship with you to get you to buy something. In other words, mass mailings you didn't ask for and don't want.

NEVER reply to a spammer or attempt to use a link that they claim will remove you from their list. This just proves to them that there's a real person at this address and you'll get more spam!

Most web email programs (such as that provided by Comcast, Yahoo! etc.) will offer spam filters. It's a good idea to set this up. Just check occasionally to be sure that it hasn't been too efficient and moved email that you want into the spam folder.

If you continually receive emails from companies that you have dealt with, and you know that it's legitimate, scroll to the bottom of the email and you may find a link to "unsubscribe."

Are There Any Weapons against Spam?

There are some commercial products that claim to sort and rid your computer of spam.
You can use a free email account (Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc.) whenever you subscribe to an online newsletter or discussion group - it's a disposable address that you can do away with if it attracts too much spam.

To be honest - the spammers mutate and it's almost impossible to create enough rules to make much of a difference. There isn't much you can do except delete them before opening

What is Malware?

Any program installed on your computer that does bad things. Some will send personal information (passwords, et.c) back to the originator; some install viruses, trojan horse programs, etc.; some change your homepage to theirs. There are many of these!

Link to excellent website to download tools for fighting "malware:"

What Is a Virus Hoax?

This is a warning that you might get about a certain e-mail that will do damage to your computer. It will often be forwarded from a friend to the whole known universe. Frequently, the warning will be written in ALL CAPS with many exclamation points (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

There have also been several virus warnings lately that tell you to search your hard drive (with explicit instructions on how to do this), looking for a particular file. If you find it, you are to delete it. Unfortunately, every PC will contain the file listed. So far, none of these deletions have done serious damage to computers (they're files you can either do without, or else they are easy to re-install), but the day is coming…

Before forwarding one of these warnings along - and particularly, before deleting anything - go to this web site or Snopes and follow the instructions on the page. You can find out in a few seconds whether you're dealing with something real or not.


You will get many, many of these emails.

All email petitions are junk and will not solve the problem, even if it's for a worthy cause. There are companies that will set up a legitimate petition - there will be a link to a web page. These are safe to sign.

Email chain letters are just like "snail mail" ones - and, no, you won't have good or bad luck, no matter what you do with these.

All of the missing children are either hoaxes or the child was found 2 hours after the email was sent (3 years ago).

And it is IMPOSSIBLE to track your email -- you won't get free things from any company and no video clip will show up on your computer.

Your best action is to hit the Delete key!

*How Do I Sort My Email? Create a New Folder -

In most email programs there is a way to create a new folder. Give it a name and move the emails into it. InI some email programs you can just drag the email into that folder. Others have a "move" button.

Emy Shepherd 413-267-5210

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