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
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
administrators posted a warning about it on the university's Web
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
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. …