Is New Virus Giving Love a Bad Name?

The "I Love You" virus has come and gone as fast as the whirlwind lover who carelessly utters that personal phrase on his first date. It sure sounds good, but it's not to be trusted.
In this case, the World press was all over it, and their warnings came just in time for millions, like me, to protect themselves. In fact, I received, not one, but over a dozen "I Love You" email messages with the dreaded viral attachment.

For future occurrences - and you know there will be future occurrences, here are common-sense steps to protect you, your associates, and your friends, against the constant, although not always catastrophic, dangers of computer viruses:

1. Have a good (and currently licensed) anti-virus program installed on every computer that has access to Internet and e-mail, such as Symantec. Set the anti-virus program to run whenever your computer is turned on and whenever new files are received. Make it a point to check the anti-virus maker's website for announcements and updates. These guys are good at what they do.

2. If you are networked, and you are using some form of dedicated Internet access such as DSL or T-1 IP, make sure you utilize a quality firewall like Sonicwall. They are very inexpensive and well worth it (The current "I Love You" virus might have made it through, but lots of other unwanted trouble will get turned back at the door).

3. Don't lose perspective. Remember, the bigger organizations suffer the most, simply because they are the biggest targets. AT&T had over 145,000 "I Love You" infections. Capitol Hill, the State Department and large universities got thousands of copies of the virus. Most smaller companies, however, flew under the malicious mischief radar. Small firms often never see these viruses.

4. Do you have a workplace mail policy in place? It is crucial that you train all employees not to open mail that is not specifically business related and not specifically expected. When in doubt, a quick email to the sender with the query "Did you send me email today?" will clarify that the suspected mail is on the level or not. When in doubt, delete. If it's critical, they can always send it again.

5. Most email programs, such as Outlook, let you set up auto-responder messages in response to all incoming messages. To date, there has never been a virus that could intercept this auto-response.

6. Another company policy that must be enforced rigorously: BACKUP EVERY IMPORTANT BUSINESS FILE EVERY DAY! Never leave the office before backing up to portable media. No exceptions. In case of virus attack, or fixed drive failure, this policy turns a potential catastrophe into a mild annoyance.

7. Enough with these jokes, already. Jokes by e-mail are perfect carriers of dangerous viruses and they are even more dangerous because they waste your time and just plain wear you out. Whenever someone sends me an e-mail joke, I send them back a thousand that I downloaded from the internet with the plea: No more, please.

It may interest you to know that many of us in the information technology industry think of virus hoaxes as being even more debilitating and damaging to individuals, companies, and the economy, than actual software viruses. I do not mean that viruses are nonexistent, but virus warnings that are not confirmed have become quite ubiquitous and the fear these warnings create can cause more damage than virus software.

Your mother is afraid of visiting New York City, even though statistics prove that you are very safe there, unless you are a gypsy cab driver. So, before you panic over the next computer virus scare, consider:

1. True viruses are often identified and publicized by virus-busting tech centers of major virus software products such as Norton.

2. Major virus revelations are revealed by the press, not by email. These revelations hit the press in hours and companies, large and small, have time to take adequate protection. In cases where such protection is not available, at least we all know it's coming.

3. Hoaxes about computer viruses, on the other hand, are not related to any actual software viruses, but they do cause people to do strange things, such as:

* Turning off their computers and not getting important work done.
* Rushing out to buy software to rid them of phony viruses.
* Fearing to open genuine and important mail messages.
* Losing lots of productive time.

All of these knee-jerk reactions, and more, cause far more financial and emotional damage than most computer viruses do, and the threat is growing. Virus hoaxes are spread almost always via email. These hoaxes are not only a problem; they are considered to be viruses themselves - viruses that are spread by unsuspecting people, like you, who are thinking only to do good by e-mailing warnings to your friends. More information on the explosion of virus hoaxes, click here.

Viruses are not to be ignored, but they can and should be dealt with in a calm and rational way. And, if you ever receive a message from me that has the subject "I LOVE YOU," I can assure you that you will have a genuine problem, but it will not be computer virus related.

Stan Rosenzweig is President of as Phoneguru.com, specializing in telephone, data and infrastructure planning and design. He responds to all emailed questions.