1 June 2003

Viruses and Spam - how to live with them [very old post]

Solomon said that there was nothing new under the sun.
Mark Twain (I think) said: there are no 'original' sins left.
Internet criminals are perhaps proving both of them wrong.
Spam is just a nuisance, and viruses can be dangerous.
Spam can be diminished, and viruses can be defeated,
even without anti-virus software (though this helps).
Most of us should also lock our doors with a Firewall.
There is lots of software you can buy.
I'll concentrate on the free stuff.

1 Spam Filters
2 Firewalls
3 Anti Virus software
4 Avoiding Viruses
5 Who writes viruses and why?

1 Spam Filters
A good collection of free spam filters are found at Download.com:
The best is probably MailWasherFree from
It may be time to reconsider using Yahoo & Hotmail, which now
have very effective spam filters.
Or use Pegasus instead of Outlook or Eudora for reading mail.
It now has very effective spam filters built-in and customisable.
Get it (free) from http://www.pmail.com/v4_release.htm

What should I do with spam which gets through?
This is my advice for stress-free spam control
- close down the reading pane and just look at the subject lines
- hold CTRL (or Shift on a Mac) and highlight all the obvious spam
(ie anything which promises to make you richer, bigger etc)
- press Ctrl-D or Delete and mutter "die!" (muttering is optional)
DO NOT reply or 'unsubscribe'. This confirms your address is useful.
DO NOT get irate. Life is too short, and spam is easy to delete.

How did they get my address?
The best source of email addresses is the web. So if you have
a webpage, disguise your email address. For an example, look at
the Tyndale site, where humans can read the email address but the
web-bots (software robots which roam the web) can't read them.
See eg: http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Tyndale/TFMembers.htm
Easy methods for disguising email addresses on the web are found at:
Much more at: http://www.spam.cl.cam.ac.uk/spam/userhelp/#hide

2 Firewalls
Computers have lots of 'ports' which act like doors. If you
don't close them, a thief can walk in and help himself.
If you have an 'always on' Internet connection, you need
a firewall, because it is like leaving your back-doors open
even when you aren't at home. But don't get paranoid.
Win XP has a fairly good firewall built in. Turn it on.
Click on Start: Control Panel: Network Connections:
- right-click on your connection to the internet then
on Properties: Advanced and tick the Firewall.
For those of you who have Win98 or who want more protection:
Zone Alarm is very good, and is widely used & supported
Version 4 isn't free any more, so get varsion 3 while you can at:
eSafe does it all, and more, but won't be free for long
Get it at: http://download.com.com/3000-2239-5742957.html?tag=lst-0-11
Firewalls can cause problems with network connections, so you
might have to fiddle a bit. For the first few hours after
installing it, if it asks you about some strange activities,
click OK. If it asks you about a new activity after some weeks, then
pause and think, because it might be someone trying the door handle.
BEFORE you install your firewall, you need to scan your computer
for viruses, because some of them transmit your secrets to their creators
through open ports, and you might authorise this as 'normal' activity.

3 Anti Virus software
"Free" anti-virus packages exist, but updates are often charged
(and without updates, it is virtually useless).
AVG is industry-strength, and free with free updates for personal use
Get it at: http://www.grisoft.com/
eSafe is still free for a short time (and does much more than anti-virus)
Get it at: http://download.com.com/3000-2239-5742957.html?tag=lst-0-11
Why nothing free for Macs?
There aren't many viruses worth worrying about.
And there is much less software in general for Macs.

4 Avoiding Viruses
Rule 1. Do not open attachments by clicking on them
Rule 2. Do not use Outlook (unless you make it secure - see below)
Rule 3. same as rule 1.
Not even web pages or pictures or letters from a friend.

But what do I do with attachments if I can't click on them?
Open the file within the software you expect to read it with.
- right-click and select "Open with..." (if your email reader offers this)
- or, save the attachment (or find out where it is already saved)
then open your reader (usually a word processor) and click on "File: Open.."
To find your attachments folder in Eudora, click on Tools: Options: Attachments
Warning: It is not safe to open DOC files in Word 97 unless it is protected
- click on Tools: Options: General: Macro Virus Protection
Later versions of Word are protected by default (check at Tools: Macro: Security)

What's wrong with Outlook?
Outlook is too powerful, and everyone uses it (because Microsoft puts it on every Windows computer). This makes it the prime target for virus writers, and its powerful features mean that some email viruses can infect your computer even if you delete the email before you open it. Outlook is getting better, and it is OK if you keep up with security updates.
How to protect yourself if you use Outlook.
1. Do not use Outlook with Internet Explorer earlier than IE 5.01.
2. Click on Tools: Options: Security, then select Restricted zone
3. Click on the Connections tab: Change: Restricted Sites: and
move the Security level slider bar to "High".
(If you can't see a bar, click on Default to show it).
4. Use Windows Update regularly to install new security patches
If you want a safer email program, try Eudora (which can import Outlook mail and mailboxes).
It has all the powerful features for viewing, filing, filtering and writing emails, without the scripting which makes Outlook so vulnerable to viruses.
Get it free (with small adverts) at http://www.eudora.com/
Other good email readers are Pegasus and Netscape.

5 Who writes viruses and why?
It used to be pimply adolescents who hadn't discovered girls yet.
Now it is often older men who 'experiment' with computer technology.
- see research at http://www.commandsoftware.com/virus/writes.html
Girls seem to have better things to do.
My prediction:
Viruses will soon be used as for advertising, with no harmful payload.
They will have a voluntary 'share with your friends' feature which
will make them look benign. You heard it here first.

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