Computer Mommy

Frequently Asked Questions:
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Computer Panic

What exactly are computer viruses?

Similar to their biological brothers, computer viruses are designed to propagate, traveling from computer to computer to perform some mischief. That mischief may be as innocent as displaying a message that reads, "This Computer is Stoned," or as fatal as wiping out every file on a hard drive. There are more than 48,000 known viruses, and 1,000 or so are active.

1. A virus consists of at least two parts: the replication code, which spreads the virus, and the payload, which is the prank or destructive part. Whoever wrote the virus inserts the virus code into an otherwise harmless program. The program -- with the virus -- is distributed through the Internet, on floppy disks, or even on commercial CD-ROMs.

2. Once you open the host program, the parent virus is activated and replicates even further. The virus spreads copies of itself to other drives on your computer and to other computers on the same network. Each of these child viruses becomes a parent virus and replicates even further.

3. A virus may remain dormant for months so it can spread without suspicion. It waits for a trigger, often a specific date to launch itself. If an infected computer boots or an infected program is launched under trigger conditions, the rest of the virus activates to deliver the payload. Typically the virus will destroy the boot record or files on your drive that have certain extensions.

4. Other viruses called worms replicate and spread with great speed. One such worm is an e-mail macro virus, such as Melissa or the Love Bug, which is distributed as an attachment to an innocent-looking message. Merely opening the message to read it activates the macro. A typical macro virus accesses your mail program's address book and sends copies of the infected message to everyone in the book. This begins a chain reaction, with each recipient perpetuating the virus. This in itself can be the macro virus's payload: jamming mail systems with so many messages that the systems are too packed to carry legitimate mail. Other macro viruses destroy files and boot records as well.

(courtesy of

How Can I Protect My Computer from Viruses?

You need an anti-virus program that you can set up to contact you frequently, online, to update your virus signature files (daily is good). This is not a "virus scan" - if you follow these instructions, you won't have to scan more than once a month or so. (If you don't follow these instructions, a scan will only find virus signatures that are already in your computer).

They estimate there are from 3-5 new viruses a DAY. Need I say more?

There are two good antivirus programs: Norton AntiVirus (which, in my opinion, seems to be easier to use) and McAfee Virus Shield. They are available at any store that sells computer software including Staples and Wal-Mart and cost $40-50. Many new computers come with one of these installed on it.

If you buy the program yourself, you will have a year's subscription to the service. If it's already installed, you will have a 3-9 month subscription. In any case, at the end of the period, you will be notified that it is about to expire. It is VERY important that you take the time to renew. The renewal costs less than $10 for a year - you'll need to have your credit card ready - and if you do the renewal by phone, be prepared to be put on hold for quite a while.

When you install the program, you will be guided through setting up a schedule of updates (Norton calls it LiveUpdate). Set this up to contact the website of the company daily. This way, whenever you go online, you will be getting any new signatures and you will be protected. If you already have one of these programs on your computer, go to your "Start" button, hover over "Programs," slide your mouse pointer over and click "Norton Antivius" or "McAfee Virus Shield." Once the program window opens, look for a command or button that says "Schedule" or "Options" and set it up to update daily.

If you have a broadband connection (cable or DSL), you will need a "firewall" in addition to an antivirus program. ZoneAlarm makes a good one and their program for consumers is free to individuals and non-profit organizations. Go to to download it.


1. If you have Windows98, WindowsME or WindowsXP, click "Start" Look at the top of the menu (above "Programs") for "Windows Update"
Click this and it will dial up Microsoft on the Internet.
Click "Product Updates" A window will pop up saying that it's looking at your computer to see what you need.
You will then be connected to a page where you can download "Critical Updates" (these are security patches for holes in various Microsoft programs where viruses come in) Download all of them. The first time will take awhile.
Do this about once a month; just to be sure you have everything.

2. Next, go to and sign up to be notified by email whenever there are new patches.
Read each email. Some will say they're for WindowsNT or Windows2000 or for a server - you can safely delete these, as you are not running these on your computer.
Look for Windows98 or Windows9x, WindowsME, WindowsXP, or sometimes there will be a patch for the version of Word or Office that is on your computer.
There will be a clickable link in the email that goes to the download page.
Download these patches. There may be 1 or more a week!

3. Open "Outlook Express" - if you use it as your email program (most people do unless they're on AOL or MSN).
On the menu bar, click "View"
Click "Layout…"
Near the bottom of the window that pops up, uncheck "Show preview pane"
Click "Apply" and "OK" If you have the Preview pane visible, you can download a virus without being aware of it. You will now have to double-click any email to open and read it.

4. Next, click "Tools"
Click "Options…"
Click the "Read" tab and be sure that "Automatically download messages when viewing in the Preview Pane" is unchecked.

5. While you're still in "Options" go to the "Maintenance" tab and put a check next to "Empty messages from the Deleted items folder on exit"
This will get all deleted emails off your hard drive (if you try to delete a virus email but it doesn't go away, it's still a danger to you and others).

6. Now click the "Security" tab (still in "Options").
Check "Restricted Sites Zone"
Click "Apply" and "OK" to make all these changes take effect.

One More Thing: Click your Start button, Click "Windows Explorer" OR on the keyboard, look for a button with a picture of the Windows logo on it (it will be between the "Ctrl" button and the "Alt" button). Hold down the Windows button while you click the letter E. "Windows Explorer" will pop up.
Click "View" (On the Menu Bar of the window that opens)
Click "Folder Options…"
Click the "View" tab Under "Files and Folders"
Click the dot next to "Show All Files"
Click "Apply"
Click "OK"

What this does is show the file extensions (the .xxx) next to all files. Now when you receive an email attachment it will show you what it is. Don't open any with a .vbs or .scr attachment or any with a double attachment (.jpg.vbs for instance), as most of these are viruses. Be careful with .exe attachments - many of these are also viruses. There are a few .doc viruses. So be careful what you open. And if you're sending someone a .doc attachment, be sure that the subject line in your email makes it clear what the document is.

Don't ever leave the subject line blank - some creators of viruses leave this blank on purpose or the subject lines will have bad English or bad grammar in them - be really clear what you're sending.

Other information (courtesy of Consumer Reports):
To foil password-cracking software, make sure your passwords are at least eight characters long and include at least one numeral and a symbol, such as "#."
Avoid common words, and never disclose a password to anyone online, ever -- under ANY circumstances!
Avoid using the same password for, say, an online discussion group and a critical task, like online banking.

Run programs such as America Online's Instant Messenger only when needed.
Be very careful with the IM file-transfer feature; a firewall won't block files sent to you this way because they piggyback on the file-transfer application itself, so you're creating an entrée for a virus.

Don't forward any e-mail warning about a new virus. It may be a hoax or outdated. Check for hoaxes at -- see below.

All antivirus software companies offer an e-mail virus alert service.

What Is a Virus Hoax?

This is a warning that you might get about a certain e-mail that will do damage to your computer. It will often be forwarded from a friend to the whole known universe. Frequently, the warning will be written in ALL CAPS with many exclamation points (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

There have also been several virus warnings lately that tell you to search your hard drive (with explicit instructions on how to do this), looking for a particular file. If you find it, you are to delete it. Unfortunately, every PC will contain the file listed. So far, none of these deletions have done serious damage to computers (they're files you can either do without, or else they are easy to re-install), but the day is coming…

Before forwarding one of these warnings along - and particularly, before deleting anything - go to this web site and follow the instructions on the page. You can find out in a few seconds whether you're dealing with something real or not.


You will get many, many of these emails.

All email petitions are junk and will not solve the problem, even if it's for a worthy cause.

Email chain letters are just like "snail mail" ones - and, no, you won't have good or bad luck, no matter what you do with these.

All of the missing children are either hoaxes or the child was found 2 hours after the email was sent (3 years ago).

And it is IMPOSSIBLE to track your email -- you won't get free things from any company and no video clip will show up on your computer.

Your best action is to hit the Delete key!

I highly recommend the following web site. It's one of the most comprehensive. and you can check out hoaxes, urban legends, rumors, junk here.

What is Spam?

This is junk email. Just like the junk snail mail that clutters up your regular mail box, this will clutter up your email box. It is unsolicited commercial email, sent by a company that has no existing business relationship with you to get you to buy something. In other words, mass mailings you didn't ask for and don't want.

NEVER reply to a spammer or attempt to use a link that they claim will remove you from their list. This just proves to them that there's a real person at this address and you'll get more spam!

Are There Any Weapons against Spam?

There are some commercial products that claim to sort and rid your computer of spam.
You can use a free email account (Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc.) whenever you subscribe to an online newsletter or discussion group.
Some ISP's will do some of the sorting for you.

And/Or try this:
1. Create a folder (*see "How to Create a New Folder" below) under your inbox called "Spam" (or whatever you want to call it).

2. Start moving spam emails (without opening them) into that folder. Just click and drag them.

3. After a week or two, you should have a good assortment.

4. Now, with Outlook Express open, click "Tools"
hover over "Message Rules"
Click "Mail…"

5. On the "Mail Rules" tab, click "New"

6. Check "Where the Subject line contains specific words"

7. Check "Move it to the specified folder"

8. In 3, click "contains specific words" -- your spam folder now has enough pieces of spam that you can find a number of words: keep typing in words (viagra, mortgage, credit cards, cash giveaway, etc. etc. etc), looking for ones that are common and that you can be pretty sure are spam. (you can go back later and add more).
Click "Add" after each word.

9. Click OK when you're done.

10. Now, click "Specified Folder"

11. Click "New folder"
Give the folder a name - something that identifies it to you
Click "OK"

12. Swipe your mouse over the Name of the Rule and type in a new name (My Rule #1, for instance)
click "OK"
click "OK" again

13. When an email arrives with one of those words in the subject line, it will automatically be moved over to the folder you created.

14. Periodically, check the folder to be sure that it doesn't contain an email from a friend and delete all in that folder without opening them.

15. You can add words to the list by repeating steps 4-9. But instead of clicking "New" in step 4, click "Modify"

*How Do I Create a New Folder?

In Outlook Express:

1. Have the Outlook Express window visible
2. Click on "Inbox"
3. Click the menu command "File"
4. Hover over "New"
5. Click "Folder…"
6. In the box with the blinking cursor labeled "Folder Name" type in a name for your new folder (it can be anything you choose).
6. Click "OK"
7. Now you will have a folder that you can click and drag emails into. This allows you to sort your emails so that you can save them and not clutter up your Inbox.

Creating a new folder in your regular programs:

1. On your desktop, double click "My Documents"
2. Click the menu command "File"
3. Hover over "New"
4. Click "Folder"
5. You will see an icon of a file folder with a box next to it and the words "new folder" highlighted. There will be a blinking cursor in the box.
6. Simply type the name that you want this new folder to have.
7. Then click outside the box.

How do I save emails into "My Documents?"

1. When the email is open, click "File"
2. Click "Save As…"
3. When the "Save Message As" window appears, check to make sure the box next to "Save In" says "My Documents" (if you want it in a different folder, click the down arrow) 4. The "File Name" box near the bottom should have the name of the email in it
5. The box next to "Save As Type" will say "Mail (*.eml)"
6. If you click the down arrow in that box, you will see "text files (*.txt)"
7. Click "text files (*.txt)"
8. Click the button that says "Save"
9. Now, go to your desktop. Double click "My Documents"
10. Look for the item you just saved and double click it.
11. It will open in Word.
12. Click "File"
13. Click "Save As…"
14. Near the bottom of the window that pops up, you will see "Save As Type"
15. Click the down arrow
16. Click "All files"
17. Click at the end of the name of the file and backspace over the "txt"
18. Type "doc"
19. You have just changed a "text" document to a ".doc" - Word will like this file.
20. "My Documents" is a safer place to store documents. Now, if anything happens to your email program, you will still have the email saved. This is particularly important if you use emails in your business.

Emy Shepherd 413-267-5210

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