Few topics in personal computing are as unnerving as viruses.
The notion that a random act of electronic violence could erase a hard drive or delete crucial files is horrific.
Whether computer viruses are common or rare occurrences is a matter of debate. I know some computer users who have suffered through at least one or more -- including me. I know many, many more who've never had one. The manufacturers of anti-virus software will tell you that viruses are everywhere -- what a surprise! Some companies have been accused of playing on irrational fears in their marketing, particularly around dates when certain calendar-based viruses, such as the Michelangelo strain, are activated. What's the truth? Virus experts who aren't affiliated with any particular company say that viruses attached to programs or embedded in the boot sectors of computers are relatively rare, though they are definitely out there. But macro viruses that are attached to Microsoft Word and Excel documents are becoming increasingly common. The first macro viruses were relatively benign, but new ones are increasingly malevolent. One called MDMA (Many Delinquent Modern Anarchists) was so prevalent on the University of Houston campus that administrators posted a warning about it on the university's Web site at www.uh.edu/computing/news/ It's a nasty one. MDMA deletes all help and Control Panel files and alters the Registry on a Windows 95 machine. On a Windows 3.1 computer, it will erase the hard disk upon reboot. On a Macintosh, it will delete all files. As you can see, no one is safe. At least, no one who uses Microsoft Word. And while we're on the subject, let's do some serious myth-busting. Despite alarming notices to the contrary, you cannot contract a virus merely by opening and reading e-mail. Nearly everyone has received one of these nonsense warnings about "e-mail viruses" with names like "Penpal Greetings," and "Good Times" and "Deeyenda." If you get one of these, politely inform the sender that it's not true, and ask him or her to spread that word to everyone who got the warning. Refer the sender to the Virus Myths Page on the World Wide Web at www.kumite.com/myths/ Shareware frequently gets a bad rap for spreading viruses, but that's undeserved. The operators of most commercial shareware archives on the Internet, as well as on-line services and bulletin boards, scan all incoming programs for viruses before posting them. Most viruses attached to programs or embedded in the boot sectors of computer disks actually come from commercial software or disks exchanged directly between users' computers. …