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How do you get a computer virus?

Ken Armstrong, instructor in information systems in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, replies:

Several types of viruses are now prevalent in today’s online world. They include file infectors, Trojan horses, worms, macro viruses, time bombs and many more. Viruses are programs that require a host — typically a program file — to infect a computer, and they are designed to make copies of themselves to “survive.”

The effects of viruses vary. Some take up space and spread to fill up a disk with multiple copies of themselves. Some delay computer operations and increase the likelihood of system crashes. Others alter or overwrite data. Whatever the end effect of contracting a virus, one thing is certain:  Firms spend increasing amounts of time and money to deal with this problem. They pass on these costs to their customers in terms of higher prices.

Some of the common ways of contracting a virus include opening e-mail attachments, running program files that are passed around on diskettes or over a network and downloading infected files from Web sites or newsgroups.

Anti-virus software is a must on any computer with an Internet connection or one that receives files from other computers. Unfortunately, anti-virus software is only a small part of the solution. Hundreds of new viruses are written daily. To catch new viruses, update software with the latest anti-virus listing as often as possible.

Computers contain programs as well as data files. In the event of a virus, programs can be reloaded from the original disks easily enough. But if personal data files — like spreadsheets, records or manuscripts — are destroyed or overwritten by a virus, what can you do? If no other copies of these files exist, make at least one backup copy and store it somewhere offsite.

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