- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

The recent outbreak of the "ILOVEYOU" worm it was a rogue program, not really a virus highlighted the need for computer users to be on alert against such invasions.

Though some have decried the estimates of $15 billion in damage being caused by the worm attack, there's no doubt that many people and businesses were at least inconvenienced and at worst severely damaged by the attack.

To me, the episode also demonstrated the growing power of the Internet, and the dependence so many people have on Microsoft Outlook as an e-mail client.

The 1999 "Melissa" worm never got near my PC no e-mails containing it arrived. By contrast, I received about seven copies of "ILOVEYOU" in two of my e-mail accounts.

The use of rogue programs, and computer viruses, right now is by and large an annoyance and nuisance. Wiping out your graphics or music files can be painful, but hopefully every user by now knows the virtue of backups to safeguard essential data. It's the virus next time about which we need to be concerned.

On May 14, National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition Sunday" (http://search.npr.org) carried an interview with Michael Ignatieff, author of "Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond," published by Metropolitan Books a unit of Heny Holt and Co.

Mr. Ignatieff talked about several aspects of "virtual warfare," including attacks against a hostile nation's computer infrastructure, or, for that matter, attacks against computer systems in our own country.

That statement caught my attention, and it should get yours as well.

What to do in the face of cyber-threats? While I have no national security solutions,it's clear that every user can take some basic steps to ensure his own data security:

• Get anti-virus software, get it now, and use it regularly. Most new home and small business PCs are shipped with such software pre-installed, and the programs run when a machine is started. If your PC has such a program, get familiar with the basic functions, such as updating virus "definitions:" the files the program uses to tell what viruses are out there.

Also learn how to turn on anti-virus scanning for incoming e-mail that's another important line of defense.

• Investigate on-line scanning services, such as those provided by McAfee.com (www.mcafee.com) and Symantec Corp.'s Norton division (www.nortonweb.com). Each offer subscription services where you can log in and have your PC scanned for viruses and worms. The upside is that these services are automatically updated. The downside is that you have to remember to log in and do the work.

• Know who's sending you e-mail and what they're attaching. In many firms, exchanging files via e-mail is common practice among remote offices with diverse users, suppliers or contractors. As long as the e-mails can be scanned, you should be all right. However, paranoia isn't a bad thing here it may be time for your company to establish rules on how such e-mail attachments are to be handled.

• Beyond the basics, there are a couple of steps I would recommend. When it comes to exchanging files, you might want to consider using an external service such as Xdrive, a "virtual" hard disk on the Internet where you can store files and then share selected ones with others. There's no cost the service is advertising supported and it works marvelously.

Information can be found at www.xdrive.com, and it's well worth investigating.

• The other is to get a good Internet security software package. I like Norton Internet Security 2000 list price $59.95 which not only incorporates Norton's AntiVirus package, but also tools to create a "personal fire wall" for those who have "always-on" Internet connections such as DSL or cable modems.

The software can also block "cookies" from being placed on your Web browser, which would more easily identify you to Web sites and marketers, and can also be used to block "adult" content from being downloaded to a PC.

You can learn more about the software at (www.symantec.com/sabu/nis/index.html). The site includes an on-line "security check" that can analyze your PC for vulnerability.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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