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Myths and Misconceptions About Computer Viruses
By Michael C. Dennis, MBA, CBF

A computer virus is a program designed to enter a computer without the user's knowledge and then to replicate itself throughout the system, and in doing so alter the way in which the system operates. Much has been written about computer viruses and their destructive potential of these viruses - most of it true, and some of it completely false. Here are some common myths and misconceptions about computer viruses:

Myth. A computer can be infected simply by accessing a website on the Internet. Reality. Only an executable program can infect a computer. Viruses do not exist by floating around the Internet.

Myth. Anti virus programs prevent computer viruses. Reality. Anti virus programs installed correctly and updated regularly will clean systems of viruses that they have been designed to detect. They do not prevent the spread of every virus. Why? Because new computer viruses are created daily.

Myth. Anti virus programs should be updated once a year. Reality. Anti virus programs should be updated as often as the manufacturer recommends. In some cases, the purchaser buys the software and receives in addition the right to download upgrades as soon as they are released.

Myth. Viruses can be spread by email or by accessing a group bulletin board. Reality. Viruses cannot be spread by reading an email text message, but they can be spread if an email comes with an executable file as an attachment, but only if the attachment is opened. For this reason, computers should never be permitted to automatically open any email attachment.

Myth. Most computer viruses are acquired by downloading data off the Internet. Reality. Most viruses are transferred from computer to computer as e-mail attachments, or on infected diskettes.

Myth. All viruses are destructive. Reality. Many viruses are destructive, such as those that erase data or reformat the system's hard drive. Some are more benign. They might change your screen saver; change the date; display a joke on the screen; etc.

Myth. A Trojan horse is a type of computer virus. Reality. A Trojan horse is a software program, not a virus - meaning it does not replicate itself. A Trojan horse can be destructive because the software is intended to perform an unintended and often malicious act.

Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that any system will not be infected by a computer virus. Common sense is the best defense. Computer users should install a state of the art anti virus software program, use it regularly, and keep it updated. They should also always scan diskettes before loading them, and back up computer files regularly.

Why do credit professionals care about computer viruses? For two reasons: First, because most credit departments are heavily dependent on computers, and a virus can bring down the systems the credit department relies on. Second, ignorance is not bliss. If a virus infects your system [or worse infects your computer and spreads to others] because you don't know enough to exercise caution, this will damage your reputation as a careful and conscientious risk manager.

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