By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers
Somebody's doing all of us a big favor. The programmer who created Melissa woke us up big time.
I don't know this dude's name. Nobody does. But I wish I did, so I could give him the proper credit. And so I could poke him in the nose.
This moron had nothing better to do than whip up a nasty computer virus that hides in a Microsoft Word file. Because most of us are gullible when it comes to mail -- we open up everything that comes into our e-mail inboxes -- this jerk's Melissa virus spread all over the world in just a few hours last week.
And let's not forget the half-wit who made Happy99. That's another virus that arrives in the mail. It's been cruising around the Internet lately, making hundreds of thousands of PC users very unhappy.
If Melissa and Happy99 don't serve as wake-up calls, something's wrong with us. The fact that our computers can be disabled so easily by stuff that arrives in the mail should be telling us something.
Computer viruses have been around a long time, yet most PC and Mac users don't have a clue. Most of us don't have anti-virus programs -- or, if we do have them, they're not running. That's senseless. If you don't have a good AV program, get one now. If you have one but you're not running it, stop fooling yourself and start running it every day. (Running it constantly is the best idea, but you should run an AV scan at least once a day.)
But let's be honest about this. No life insurance policy is going to keep you healthy and alive. No anti-virus program is going to keep you from doing dumb things. So let's talk about dumb things.
The dumbest of all dumb things you can do as a computer user is to open something that comes to you uninvited. Let me say that another way: If you get something you didn't ask for, you're really dumb if you open it up without checking it out first.
By "open," I mean double clicking on it, doing a single left click and hitting Enter or doing a single right click and choosing "Open." Sometimes this is called "running" a program. ("Running" and "opening" are the same thing in this case.)
I realize you probably have four zillion friends who send you things all the time. They send you cute little dancing bears that waltz across the screen or Easter bunnies that wink or things that turn your screen upside down until you move your mouse.
Do yourself a favor. When stuff comes in your mail like that, trash it. Get rid of it. When your friends ask you how you liked the Easter bunny, you can be blunt. Tell them you don't run programs that come in the mail. Be nice to your friends. Don't hurt their feelings. Just tell them you don't open stuff that can't be verified.
Do yourself another favor. If you use Microsoft Word 97 or Word 2000, don't open Word documents that come in the mail unless you know where they come from and what they are. (That's how the Melissa virus gets into your computer.)
For information on the Melissa and Happy99 viruses, go to any of the legitimate anti-virus sites on the Web. If you don't have a favorite, go to http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/.