Can I protect myself against e-mail viruses?

Yes. First, let us review how e-mail viruses work. Virtually all arrive as an attachment to a regular e-mail message. The author hopes the user will open the attachment, releasing the payload. With that in mind, a few basic rules about receiving e-mail will provide plenty of protection.

Never open an attachment that you did not know was coming. If your sister sends an attachment, reply and ask if it is a real attachment before opening it. This is how the recent "I Love You" virus mailed itself to everyone in a victim's address book. Unsuspecting users opened an e-mail from Mom and became infected. Only some e-mail programs can be used to spread viruses using scripting technology, notably Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. Of course, any user opening an attachment can become infected.

Finally, all users should have virus software installed, and update it frequently, at least once per month.

July 2000

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