|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 73||August 1, 2001|
Readers who have up-to-date virus protection software don't need to read this article, but you might want to email it to anyone who has ever sent you a virus-infected document. Everybody else: pay attention!
If you're using the Internet for organizing and advocacy, it's a good bet that you keep a lot of names, and possibly some "BCC" lists, in your email address book. So if you don't keep your virus protection software up-to-date, you could distribute a virus to hundreds of your activist colleagues--without even knowing it. That's not going to help your credibility or your cause, and it might even undermine support for your organization.
No one who uses the Internet should be without virus protection software, but it's especially important for activists (and nonprofit organizations) because we are actively engaged in Internet outreach. A single infected computer can easily generate hundreds, even thousands of messages, potentially spreading the virus to many more activists' computers.
The SirCam virus that is currently affecting Internet users around the world is a case in point. Many Internet users have received multiple copies of SirCam-generated email messages with infected documents attached.
The SirCam virus sends a message that begins with "Hi! How are you?" and ends with "See you later. Thanks." The message may also be in Spanish, beginning with "Hola como estas?" and ending with "Nos vemos pronto, gracias." The message includes an attachment that may end with a ".doc.pif" identifier. Complete information on this virus is available at http://www.cert.org/advisories/CA-2001-22.html.)
You won't have a problem with SirCam or any other virus if your virus protection software is up-to-date. But if you are using a Windows-based computer and your anti-virus software is not up-to-date, your computer could become infected if you open the attachment. If that happens, your computer will start sending messages with an attached file to every email address stored on your computer. Even worse: since the virus randomly selects a file to attach, the document that the computer attaches could be a confidential memo or a file containing personal or embarrassing information.
Because new viruses are being created all the time, it isn't enough to simply install anti-virus software and let it automatically scan files. To stay protected, you've got to update the software regularly by downloading the new virus "definitions" that software companies provide. In most cases these updates are free to registered software owners and are released every month.
The simplest way to keep your virus protection software up-to-date is to bookmark your software provider's web site and make a note in your calendar to visit it around the first of every month. Some virus protection software programs include a feature that allows you to schedule a specific date and time every month when your computer automatically connects to the web site and downloads the update for the product you are using.
Here in the Bay Area, CompuMentor recently organized a "Virus Vaccination Day" for nonprofit organizations in San Francisco and Marin County, and will do the same for Peninsula and South Bay organizations later this year. Participating organizations get free anti-virus software and training in how to use it, and volunteer help installing the software on their office computers. See http://www.compumentor.org/events/vvday/npofaq.html for more information about this program.
CompuMentor's event was modeled on a project pioneered by NPower in Seattle, and could easily be duplicated in other communities around the country. Both organizations also offer lots of online advice about virus protection. CompuMentor's TechSoup project has a Virus Protection Resource Page at http://www.techsoup.org/virusvaccination.cfm. On the NPower site, go to "Virus Protection"in the "Hands-On Technology How-To's" section of the table of contents, at: http://www.npower.org/resourcesandlinks/index.html.
Viruses are more than just an annoyance since some of them can literally erase all the data on your hard drive. Virus hoaxes, on the other hand, are purely an annoyance. If someone sends you a warning about a virus, resist the temptation to immediately forward it to everyone you know. Software publishers who sell virus protection software usually have a section on their web site with detailed information on viruses. For examples, see: the Norton Anti-Virus software site at http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/index.html or the McAfee site at http://www.mcafee.com/anti-virus/.
The McAfee site also includes a link to Internet hoaxes, but there are several web sites specifically devoted to cataloguing Internet hoaxes. Most include a category for false virus warnings. If you suspect that a virus warning you've received is a hoax, it's a good idea to check http://HoaxBusters.ciac.org/ or http://www.nonprofit.net/hoax/default.htm.
The vast majority of viruses are created to attack the Windows operating system or Microsoft software products such as the Outlook email program. You can reduce the risk of a virus infection by using a non-Microsoft email program, such as Eudora. Or, consider doing what I did: recycle your PC and replace it with a Mac. You'll still need virus protection software, but there will be significantly less risk of infection.
An online forum about Internet activism is taking place this week on the Steve Clift and "NetActivism" author Ed Schwartz. Topics that will be discussed include email petitions, message boards and chat.
This July marked the fifth anniversary of NetAction's efforts to promote the use of technology for grassroots activism. The Internet has become a more important tool for citizen action with every passing year, making our web site an increasingly useful resource for online activists.
NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.
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