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A computer virus is a software program that can copy itself without your knowledge or permission. Most viruses also have other effects, which may be:

  • Annoying but harmless, such as a message that appears on your screen.
  • Inconvenient, such as a missing option in a Word menu.
  • Destructive to your work, such as a corrupted personal file.
  • Destructive to your computer, such as a corrupted system file.

New computer viruses crop up every day, but luckily most are fairly easy to detect and remove. This document explains how to protect yourself from virus infections through safe computing practices and routine use of Smith's virus-checking tools. These procedures also help you protect your colleagues and correspondents.

Safe handling practices for email attachments
Protecting your files on a Macintosh or Windows computer
Virus hoaxes
Virus information websites

Safe Handling Practices for Email Attachments

Many types of viruses, including the highly destructive "worm" viruses, travel as email attachments. Example "worms" include the LoveBug virus, the Anna Kournikova virus, and the Navidad virus.

In almost all cases, these viruses are not activated unless you actually open the infected attachment. Therefore,
the very best way to protect yourself against worm viruses and other email viruses is to be suspicious of every attachment, even if it appears to come from someone you know and trust. This is because most worms propagate in a very devious fashion, using Microsoft Outlook as a cover.

When an Outlook user receives and opens an infected attachment, the worm infiltrates their Outlook address book and sends itself to everyone listed there, without the user's knowledge. So if anyone you correspond with, on- or off-campus, uses Microsoft Outlook, you are a candidate for infection.

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Protecting Your Files on a Windows computer

The best way to protect the files on your computer is to install virus-scanning software. Smith provides every student, staff, and faculty member with a free copy of our recommended anti-virus program, Windows Security Essentials.

If you are a member of the Smith community and do not have Security Essentials installed on your office or home computer, you can download a free copy from the Smith software download site.

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Virus Hoaxes

If someone sends you a virus warning that seems exaggerated, please read it carefully. If you have any suspicion that the warning may be a hoax, please call the User Support Center at x4487 before you send the warning on to other people. The ITS virus-protection team will evaluate the threat and contact you.

If a virus is supposed to be able to delete the contents of your safe deposit box or clean out your checking account, stop to think about what is being claimed. Sometimes the warning contains a link that you can click on to download more information. Beware! The download itself may infect your machine.

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Virus Information Websites

Often the best virus information is on the Web. These URLs take you to virus information sites that are updated constantly: 

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Copyright © 2015 Smith College Information Technology Services  |  Stoddard Hall   |  Northampton, MA 01063
413.585.4487  |  Questions or comments?  Send us email
 |  Last updated May 22, 2013

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