Weekly Commentaries

This is Sunday Chronicle's weekly commentaries on various issues of interest affecting the country. All individual commentators are done by elite Papua New Guineans from diverse educational backgrounds.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Computer virus queries answered


DURING the week a good friend emailed me a few of his queries regarding computer viruses. Due to the limited space in the email text box I promised to write an article to answer all his questions.

I guess in this article many will also have a glimpse of these cyber pests and at least be prepared to protect their computers from treats. Technology always arrives with its share of problems, I think that's one of my common phrases. Computers came with viruses, like it or not. It's not something you'd want to eliminate but something you must learn to live with even if you become a victim. I believe this article will help us at least minimize the treats that computer viruses present.

First of all computer viruses are simply computer programs but I'd rather say destructive computer programs. They function like any other computer software on the windows platform but they execute destructive code according to how they were programmed. They fit exactly into the cracks in the windows operating system.

That brings us to another point. When Microsoft System Engineers develops the Windows platform (eg; XP) programmers sometimes create error in the layers of the software. These are called flaws or vulnerabilities.

Since I deal with viruses I call these flaws "cracks". This is to help us understand the concept of how computers viruses work. It is these cracks that the virus writers target when writing a virus code. Every virus ever created was designed for a specific crack. Therefore you have to download updates that Microsoft provides (check http:\\www.microsoft.com).

The bundles monthly updates are called Service Packs" (SP1, SP2 etc..). Windows XP has 3 service packs. You have to get them and install in your PC. These service packs provide patches for all cracks that were overlooked by software engineers in the design phase of the original Operating System. Some of the monthly updates that are released are in fact called "patches".  Now you know. 

Computers that are connected in a network are more vulnerable than stand alone computers. Networks are closed systems and any code that posses' computer virus characteristics can easily move between PC's and carry out their malicious operations. In fact networks were designed with the motive of central administration of resources which security is one of them. In the case of domain server networks , the server is responsible for all the client PC's. If a computer on the domain is infected and the server cannot solve the issue, then the network is not functioning the way it should be. The server is the master computer and it has to do daily scheduled scans on all PC's on the network to minimize threats. Otherwise there's something wrong with the server configuration or with the person in charge.    

Talk to everyone who owns a computer and they'll tell you they had enough with computer viruses. These days with the increase use of removable storage devices, viruses spread like fire. A good tip will be to avoid public places where people do printing services. These places are the havens where computer viruses are bred locally. They are bred, donated and traded for free, go at your own risk. The best viruses are found there. Once your drive goes in there it comes out infected. Buy your own printer and print at home. Oops sorry I'm not putting these people out of business but just doing my job. Cyber pest control.

But really, you don't need to be afraid of computer viruses. Computers are designed with the best security features to protect itself. The good thing is that if you are up to date with your firewalls and patches you won't even need an anti virus. When all cracks are patched, viruses in the system will have no place to reside in the system and they simply become non effective outcasts in the windows environment. Patches in this context refers to both the OS and applications such as Ms Office. The simple trick is that you have to regularly update your system. If its updated then the issue of viruses will be history.
I always suggest that you get an antivirus where you can have easy access to getting updates. If you have a standalone PC at home without an internet connection then you have to install at least two anti viruses. At this moment I'd rather not recommend any anti virus, because the fact is that not one anti virus will solve all treats. They all solve some that other don't so it's best you install at least two. So if one miss some treats then it's likely that the other will fix. But if both miss some, then you're doomed, he he he.

To avoid being in the doomed state, at least get the windows patches, make it your duty to get internet access and download patches regularly. Otherwise we have "The PC Clinic" you can always contact us. If you are a technician working for an organization, then slipstream a Windows boot disk with the latest patches so that you keep your PC's free of vulnerability. Otherwise you'll have a whole network full of holes, and if there are holes viruses are bound to force themselves in. Your choice, become responsible or be a victim.

The really worse news is that some viruses cannot be removed by anti viruses; these are the latest and the best in the industry. It involves specialist service to really deal with them. It's good because they make us, security technicians, to become better in the process of solving them. A good tip, if you want to be the best in the business then study the windows registry. That's where all the answers are, if you want to solve the problem of computer viruses. Otherwise I'm here to help, email me.

Computer viruses were first recognized in Pakistan, it was said that the first virus was called "brain". Such a contrasting name for a pest . It then crossed the ocean to the states and flooded the world when the internet was introduced. Since then millions in income were lost due to its effects globally. In PNG we are moving into the digital age and these are the perils of the age that we live in. To ignore would be naïve but learn and protect yourself from its harm. At least apply basic protective measures to keep your system intact. "Otherwise somebody's gonna get a hurt real bad."

Have a week of safe computing. pkasar@itelpng.com  

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