These threats must never be taken lightly. Note that the term "virus infection" is a generic reference to the risks of being on the Internet. If your computer is not on the Internet, or on a network, you have nothing to worry about. Where a virus was once the primary means of data loss on systems, a true virus is a very small part of today's problems. What was once commonly referred to as a virus is now mostly worms, Trojan infections, and various scumware that can do everything from making your system unstable to destroying or otherwise deleting everything on your hard drive. One of the worst consequences is the possibility of identity theft by way of capturing credit card and password information and sending it to a third party. Some of these infections are referred to as blended threats because of the various means of spreading and the amounts of damage that can be done.
The average user may be totally unaware that they have a Trojan in their system, (these are the infections that will most likely allow someone to take control of your system remotely or capture private, sensitive information).
How do most systems get infected with these malicious intruders? It's unfortunately very easy on most systems.
If you use Internet Explorer you're at risk, it supports Active X controls. These are like little programs that get downloaded to your system in the background while you surf the Internet. (Internet Explorer is the ONLY browser that natively supports Active X). These rogue Active X controls can make your system slow down, delete files and more, even format your hard drive. There are many utilities available that strip your system of Active X controls. Active X is a feature/benefit of Internet Explorer but a security risk just the same. The most likely way to have a rogue ActiveX control enter your system is by accidentally typing in the wrong name for a WEB site and being redirected to a site you had no intention of going to. Most good firewalls have the ability to suppress ActiveX. A relatively new way to infect systems is with a pop-up that appears when you visit a WEB site that warns you your system may be at risk or infected and offers to scan it. DON'T! Do anything possible to close this window since clicking anywhere, not just on the OK button, could invite the malware into your system.
All versions of Outlook prior to the version in Microsoft Office referred to as 2003 or XP are susceptible to various intrusions due to the method Outlook uses to handle in-line attachments. In later versions of Outlook (not Outlook Express), there is a patch available to eliminate much of the potential risk but it stops Outlook from receiving many types of attachments. There have been many instances where our customers have asked us to un-install the patch because they needed to get attachments. It can't be uninstalled. If you doubt these statements, you can do a Google search for worm, and virus and you will see Outlook mentioned as a carrier but rarely any of the dozens of other E-Mail clients.
Microsoft has been in a big push for a couple years to improve it's security and these problems are certainly, in part, their fault for designing the software the way they do. But, they are also the biggest target out there and the software the attackers target. With that said, if everyone in the world stopped using Outlook today, 95% of the so called"virus" problems would disappear by tomorrow. Of course the attackers would find another program to attack.
Note that Microsoft will NEVER send out any patches my E-Mail so if you get one that claims you have a potential security problem and you open the attachment you will probably be in trouble,
There are also Macro worm/virus infections that do their dirty work on Word and Excel.
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