ISSUE 499: The high-tech office- May
Antivirus software isn't effective
if you don't keep it up to date
One advantage of the Linux operating system
that I didn't point out in my recent column on the subject is that
there are no viruses preying on Linux users. Not that it isn't possible
for virus creators to make Linux-specific viruses; at the moment,
however, none have been written.
Instead, the vast majority of viruses affect users on
computers running one of Microsoft's various operating systems:
DOS, or Windows 3.1, 95, 98 or NT.
With fewer users, Macintosh systems are targeted less
frequently, although Mac users of Microsoft Office can be affected by
Word and Excel macro viruses, including the recent Melissa virus. But
the risk of infection is much higher for PC users.
Anyone who receives e-mail with attached files, loads
floppy diskettes from other users or installs pirated software is at
risk. Even people who only install shrink-wrapped, store-bought
software can end up with infected computers. There are a number of
cases of manufacturers who unwittingly distributed in-
fected programs on their product CDs. Reading a document distributed
across your business network may be all it takes for your computer to
become infected with a macro virus.
The two most popular antivirus products are Symantec's
Norton Antivirus and Network Associate's McAfee VirusScan. Both
are offered in a variety of flavours for Mac, Windows 95/98 and Windows
NT. And both can be purchased either as stand-alone products or as part
of a larger suite of utilities: Symantec SystemWorks and Network
Associate's McAfee Office.
Both products sell for about $75 on their own or about
$100 for the suite packages. While there are a number of other
antivirus packages with loyal followings, these two account for the
bulk of the market.
Both products have benefited from recent acquisitions
of competitive products. Symantec took over the technology and customer
base of IBM's Antivirus, while McAfee did the same with the
British Dr. Solomon Antivirus. As well, the McAfee product has
rolled in the functions of the company's own WebScan product.
The result is a pair of competing products that are
both simple to install and use and are effective in identifying and
eliminating the majority of current viruses. Installed right out of the
box, either will do a good job checking your system at startup, running
in the background checking floppy disks when they are first read, and
scanning e-mail attachments and downloaded programs. Both can be easily
set to automatically scan your entire system regularly, perhaps on your
lunch hour or late at night when the computer can be left on, but is
not in use.
A virus-protection program can only protect against
viruses that it knows about. Unfortunately, too many users install a
package and then forget about it, giving them a false sense of
Both Symantec (www.symantec.com) and
Network Associates (www.mcafee.com) update the virus data
files used by their programs at least once a month. But these updates
are only effective if they're downloaded and installed onto your
And that's where Norton Anti-
Virus has an advantage over its competitor. It's Live Update feature
makes getting and installing the latest virus definitions much easier
than McAfee VirusScan's equivalent. And for many users, that means it's
more likely to be done.
After installing the latest downloaded version of
VirusScan and finding that it included virus definitions dating from
last November, I went back to the company's Web site and downloaded its
latest definitions only to have them refuse to install. The
installation program claimed to be unable to find the main program.
Since these programs are only effective if their virus
definitions are kept current, Norton AntiVirus gets my vote.
Both products offer 30-day trial versions from their
respective Web sites. With the increased public awareness of the
vulnerability of personal computers to virus attacks, both Web sites
are experiencing increased traffic and at times can be bogged down.
And while I hear the Linux users gloating in the
background, they probably won't be laughing for long. As their
operating system gains popularity, it too will be targeted by virus
writers. And when the next version of Word Perfect (popular on Linux
systems) gains the ability to run Word macros, they too may become
victim of macro viruses.
Here's a quiz to see if you've been paying
attention to recent col-
umns: "Who originated the increasing-
ly popular Linux operating system"?
If you answered "Bill Gates," go to the back of the
class. If you answered "Linux Thorwald," then you read my column in
Issue 496. Unfortunately, as I was reminded by numerous Linux users,
the correct answer is "Linus Torvalds." My apologies to Mr. T and my
thanks to all who took the trouble to correct me. *