Protecting Yourself against Viruses

What steps can I take to safeguard myself against viruses?

  • Beware email attachments!
    Many viruses spread by sending themselves as email attachments - as soon as you open the attachment, you have the virus. Since these viruses email themselves from infected computers, most of the time the email containing the virus will come from someone you know and trust, who is unknowingly sending the virus out. Never open an email attachment unless you're sure the person really meant to send it to you! A couple ways to check this are:
    • Look for a personal message. Viruses don't know anything personal about you, so if the message mentions your kids by name, or talks about something you and the sender did together last week, it's probably ok. If it just says something general like "Take a look at the attachment", or "I hope you like this file" don't open the attachment! Just delete the message.
    • Check with the sender. If you're not sure about an attachment, send a message back to the person asking if they really meant to send it. If they write back that they did, it's ok. If not, your message may alert them that they have a virus.


  • Use anti-virus software.
    The two top kinds of anti-virus software are Norton Anti-Virus and McAfee VirusScan. Norton is generally considered to be the best. McAfee VirusScan Online is also available; however, it does much of its work via an internet connection. This makes it less effective if you don't have a high speed connection, or don't spend a lot of time online.


  • Keep your virus definitions up-to-date!
    This cannot be emphasized enough. You should update your virus definitions at least twice a month. The virus definitions tell your anti-virus software how to recognize viruses so it can prevent them from infecting your system. Experts estimate that 10-15 new viruses come out every day - if your definitions are out-of-date, your software won't recognize recent viruses, leaving you vulnerable. To update your definitions:
    • In Norton Anti-Virus - Start Norton Anti-virus and click on the "LiveUpdate" button. You will need to be connected to the Internet.
    • In McAfee VirusScan - Start McAfee VirusScan and click on the "Update" button. You will need to be connected to the Internet.

  • Keep up on your Windows Updates.
    Some viruses spread by taking advantage of security holes in your web browser or in Windows. These holes can be fixed by downloading and installing your Windows Updates and by downloading and installing the latest version of Internet Explorer. On most versions of Windows, you can click on [Windows Update] from your Start menu to update Windows. In Windows XP, click [Start], [All Programs], [Windows Update].

Help!!! I have a virus - what do I do?

  • Don't panic! Most viruses can be dealt with fairly easily, before they do major damage.
  • Stay offline. If you go online, you run the risk of sending the virus out. Many modern viruses will also open your computer up to hackers while you're online.
  • Make sure you have the latest virus definitions for your anti-virus software. If you don't, contact the Boreal office - we may be able to provide them to you so you won't need to go online for them. If you don't have anti-virus software, get some, install it, and download the latest virus definitions for it.
  • Run a virus scan and repair, quarantine, or delete infected files. NOTE: If a file cannot be repaired, it's usually safe to quarantine or delete it.
  • If this doesn't work, contact Boreal. Some viruses need special tools to be cleaned up, or you may need to manually edit or delete some files.

I just got a virus alert from a friend. What should I do?

  • Ignore it.  Delete it.  DO NOT PASS IT ON!!!!!!  Most virus alerts you receive in your email are hoaxes, and passing them on does more harm than good - it causes people to ignore warnings about real viruses, causes excess traffic over the server (just like a real virus), and spreads fear. Some hoaxes even cause real damage to your computer by tricking you into deleting files that are needed for your computer to run properly. Some signs of hoaxes are:
    • They usually tell you you'll get the virus just by reading or opening a particular email message. Few real viruses work this way - normally you have to open an attachment to get a virus. Those that do work this way can be prevented by having your browser patched or upgraded to the latest verson.
    • They usually emphasize that you should send this to as many people as possible. This is the author's way of getting you to send his or her hoax on.
    • The supposed virus they describe is unusually destructive - they claim it will wipe out your hard drive, erase your BIOS, or do something else that will completely destroy your computer.  (I've even seen one hoax that claimed your computer would go out, stomp on household pets and mock the pope - obviously a hoax!  See
    • They often refer to an official source, such as Microsoft, AOL, IBM or even the FCC, to make the alert sound authentic. Microsoft, AOL, IBM, etc. don't send virus alerts via email.
    • The date the virus was found or announced is very vague - "yesterday", "last week", etc.  If there isn't a specific date such as May24, 2006, the "yesterday" they're talking about could have been 10 years ago when the hoax first went out!
    • They claim the virus is undetectable. If it's undetectable, how did the people who sent the email detect it?

    Virus hoaxes are listed at and Please check these sites before forwarding any virus warnings.


    More Information

    There's an excellent site on viruses and other destructive types of software at: