By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers
The Internet has made fools of us all. We thought we knew how to control computer viruses, yet we've all been humbled by the incredibly rapid spread of viruses that propagate through e-mail.
Even Microsoft, the company that makes a lot of noise about the need for antivirus measures, has been caught with its guard down. The two big virus attacks of the last few months hit Microsoft's own in-house computers harder than they hit any other company's PCs.
The message we all should be getting from this unpleasant experience has two parts
The first and easiest to digest is that there are bad people in the world. Halfwits who create viruses are bad people. I was taught to be nice and to like everybody and I grew up that way, but I'll be first in line to whack a bunch of behinds if we can catch the idiots who make viruses.
The second is that we're nuts if we continue to treat viruses as if they were water nymphs or mosquitoes or something merely pesky. Viruses are bad news in a big way. They're dangerous. They can cost you a lot of money in lost wages or lost orders or lost checks at the bank. Or they could all of us a lot more in lost confidence. If we can't trust stuff that comes into our computers from afar, we'll stop treating the Web like the world's most wonderful shopping mall and do our business the old-fashioned way, face to face with somebody we hope we can trust.
Taking viruses seriously is not a complicated matter. You need good antivirus software and you need to use it. Getting good software is simple, but using it is one of the hardest things known to humankind. People just don't like to change their habits, and so they don't run the antivirus software that they downloaded off the Internet or bought at the store. This means the best kind of AV software is the kind that does everything for you. All you do is install the software. Then you let 'er rip.
I used to like McAfee's AV software because of just that reason. You clicked your mouse once or twice and let it do its thing. Then the company got swallowed up by a larger company and the software got an attack of the bloats. Symantec's software behaves better and installs more sensibly.
But both of them miss viruses that other programs detect. The AV software built into Fix-It, the Mijenix utility I've raved about recently, has found many viruses that the McAfee and Symantec programs missed. But the champ in hunting down viruses is a tough little program from a Norwegian company, Norman Data Defense Systems. I installed it a few weeks ago and let it dance through my files -- I store a lot of stuff and have 140,000 files on just two of my drives -- and I spent the next two hours cleaning out viruses that were hidden away in files I had never opened.
The viruses that Norman's software spotted were hidden in archives that I'd grabbed off some newsgroups many months ago but never looked at. By the time it had finished taking my files to the cleaner, Norman's AV snooper had found 83 infected files.
If you're thinking that this Norman software must be the Next Good Thing, you're right -- sort of. Because all of the viruses it found were stuck away in archives (mostly in zip files), and because no one at the Norman company had thought of a way to get inside an archive to disinfect a single file, I had to do all the dirty work myself. I don't blame the Norman engineers for this failing, because my Fix-It antivirus software has the same problem, and other AV software I've tried failed at this too. (Must be either nobody who works at antivirus companies ever uses a zip file or they just don't seem to care about this. Either way, it's an odd problem.
Norman's software costs $80. . I'm not sure if you can find it in a store, but you can order it over the Web at https://www.norman.com/BuyProduct/purchase.htm. (I don't like to put such long and case-sensitive addresses into print, but the links from the main Norman Web site were out of sync when I tried some of them, so go right to the "purchase" link and you'll be OK.)
Norman software runs on older versions of Windows as well as current versions, and some parts run under MS-DOS also. The software has a lot of options and functions. I found some of these functions confusing, partly because the software installed three different modules to control various activities, but once I kept my hands off and let the software do its own thing, everything worked fine.