Nasties…the IT world’s equivalent to the Flu

When I began my tenure at CSI Onsite I was introduced to so much so fast that I would actually get sleepy during white board sessions with our CEO…you know what I mean? Much like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose. There were TLAs (three letter acronyms) to learn, IT terminology, cider block notation, MAC addresses, Hexadecimals, and the proper keyboard short cuts to do everything from moving between apps to reaching the control panel without using a mouse –My CEO is very passionate about efficiency (look for any of our productivity/efficiency tips posts)-

One of the terms that I understood from the get-go was the term “Nasties” or viruses to the uninitiated.  On an unrelated, but entertaining note, I was recently introduced to the term McNasty a hideously high calorie concoction created by the students at Bloomington’s Kennedy High School. The McNasty is similar (in name) yet completely different in purpose. McNasty fuels an adolescent athlete, Nasties fuels the rage of many a computer user.

What is a Nasty?

A nasty is our term for a computer virus. A computer virus gets its name because it shares similar qualities to a biological virus:

  • It invades/not a natural part of the system
  • It can’t reproduce on its own
  • It hitches a ride to get into a system

Computer viruses are software programs (tiny, like a biological virus) designed to spread from one computer to another and to interfere with computer operation.

A virus may do one or all of theses; corrupt or delete data, use your email program to spread itself to other computers, or even erase everything on your hard disk. Oooo they make me so ding dang mad!!

Computer viruses are often spread by attachments in email messages or instant messaging messages. That is why it is essential that you never open email attachments unless you know who it’s from and you are expecting it.

Marshal Brian & Wesley Fenlon listed some common forms of virus you can encounter in their very well written article “How Computer Viruses Work” on http://computer.howstuffworks.com/virus.htm. Here is there list for you to examine and learn from:

  • Viruses: A virus is a small piece of software that piggybacks on real programs. For example, a virus might attach itself to a program such as a spreadsheet program. Each time the spreadsheet program runs, the virus runs, too, and it has the chance to reproduce (by attaching to other programs) or wreak havoc.
  • E-mail viruses: An e-mail virus travels as an attachment to e-mail messages, and usually replicates itself by automatically mailing itself to dozens of people in the victim’s e-mail address book. Some e-mail viruses don’t even require a double-click — they launch when you view the infected message in the preview pane of your e-mail software [source: Johnson].
  • Trojan horses: A Trojan horse is simply a computer program. The program claims to do one thing (it may claim to be a game) but instead does damage when you run it (it may erase your hard disk). Trojan horses have no way to replicate automatically.
  • Worms: A worm is a small piece of software that uses computer networks and security holes to replicate itself. A copy of the worm scans the network for another machine that has a specific security hole. It copies itself to the new machine using the security hole, and then starts replicating from there, as well

Viruses can be disguised as attachments of funny images, greeting cards, or audio and video files.

Computer viruses also spread through downloads from the Internet. They can be hidden in illicit software or other files or programs you might download.

Your best bet at fighting off unintentionally picking up a Nasty is to stay up to date on your updates and your antivirus programs/tools. It also well worth the extra time it takes to continue to learn about the latest threats out there. You may want to do this yourself or have your trusted IT advisor…say someone like CSI Onsite to take care of this for you.

How do I know if my computer has been infected with a Nasty?

Sometimes you can tell immediately that you have a Nasty…that is never a good feeling, but at least you know you have a battle on your hands.

Here are a few signs your computer might have a Nasty:

  • You see unusual error messages
  • Computer runs more slowly than normal
  • Computer freezes /stops responding (repeatedly)
  • Computer reboots on its own & fails to run normally
  • Computer crashes and restarts every few minutes
  • You see distorted menus and dialog boxes
  • Apps on your computer don’t work well or at all
  • Disks and/or disk drives are inaccessible
  • You can’t print correctly

Although these are signs of infection, they might also indicate hardware or software issues. See a skilled IT Tech to determine what Gremlins you might be chasing.

Tip Beware pop ups saying your computer might be infected or unprotected. If you don’t recognize the app warning you of impending doom, get help right away. And most important DO NOT CLICK A DING DANG THING!!!!

 

Prevention

Aside from learning some basic Internet/email safe user practices there are a few tricks you can use to help prevent picking up a Nasty on your computer.

One of the easiest methods is to set your user account up as a standard user (not as administrator), and that you follow a few basic rules when you surf the Internet, download files, and open attachments.

You absolutely have to have dependable, reputable, robust Anti-Virus software to protect your computer. There are a number of companies who have great products. Which one you chose will depend on your needs and your IT infrastructure.

One product I can recommend for personal computing is free, efficient, and reliable. It is Microsoft Security Essentials.   We have used this free product as a company on a number of occasions to help protect a customer’s computer when they had reached the limit of the budget, yet still needed an antivirus solution.

Some would argue that once a virus is on your computer, its type or the method it used to get there is not as important as removing it and preventing further infection. We see things a little different at CSI Onsite. Understanding how your computer became infected tells us a few things about the virus itself and how we can help you avoid further infection.

 

If you suspect your computer has been infected, the Microsoft Windows website provides step-by-step instructions for removing viruses and other malware. However I would recommend visiting your IT professional to guarantee the best results.

With prudence and knowledge you can avoid most “Nasties”, but some are so very sneaky that you may unwittingly load them on to your computer.  Fear not, we can help you, and we can also set you up in such a manner as to greatly diminish your chance of loading a virus on to your computer.

Of course, once a Nasty has invaded, you know where to turn for some silicon warriors to stomp out and vanquish your enemy! (I really have to stop watching the Lord of the Rings movies before I write these posts) We would love to help you operate your computer with a high level of confidence and clean up and battle any Nasties you encounter. Please comment on this post and share any insights you have from your experiences dealing with viruses.

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