General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter


Viruses and Hoaxes: How to Protect Yourself

By Robin Page West

Now that you’re online and e-mail has become as important to you as the telephone, you may have noticed a new set of information pouring into your office that’s hard to ignore—reports of disabling macro viruses, pleas to help children with brain tumors, terrifying warnings of rampant kidney-harvesters preying on business travelers, and chain letters with cute graphic depictions of body parts.

Viruses are real and can cripple our computers. And those pesky “you’ve been e-mooned” messages take up lots of time, too. But how can we distinguish between a genuine virus report, a virus hoax, and spam? Must we spend hours daily scrutinizing every single e-mail message we receive, trying to determine whether it’s fact or fiction?

Fortunately not, thanks to various “rumor control” sites on the Web. For example, try, the Web site of the CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) Coordination Center, which studies Internet security vulnerabilities, provides incident response services to sites that have been the victims of attack, and publishes a variety of security alerts. This is the first place to look for technical help when you are hit by a virus, or trying to avoid one.

A slightly more user-friendly site is, IBM’s “Anti-virus Online” site, chock full of information on viruses, hoaxes, and how to respond to them. This site’s “Hype Alerts” and “Virus Alerts” claim to give you the straight scoop on whether a bizarre message you received is real or spam.

Those of us who are public service minded can do our own small part in the war against e-clutter. Take the advice of Dr. Michel Kabay of the National Computer Security Association, and admonish those senders of friendly e-chain letters for their egregious breach of netiquette. According to Kabay, in addition to using up bandwidth and net users’ time, such chain messages can wind up turning into batches of useless mail that circulate back and forth among the same people in what is known as “mail storm,” a pernicious problem on-line.

Too busy to visit these sites or to start your own anti-spam campaign? According to Winfred Fong,, senior network engineer for Enterprise Business Solutions, Inc.,, a northern Virginia-based firm specializing in the development of innovative computer information management solutions, following these basic practices will minimize, but not eliminate, the threat of virus infections:

Install anti-virus software and keep it updated.

Turn on the macro virus protection feature in your Microsoft office products.

Do not open e-mail attachments that contain executable (“.exe”) files.

Do not download any executable (“.exe”) file from an untrusted source.

Make sure your computer boots first from C, then A, to minimize boot sector viruses.

Back up often so if your computer is infected, you can restore your files.

Robin Page West is a litigator in Baltimore, Maryland and editor-in-chief of SOLO.



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