ISSUE 578: Zisman- Nov 21 2000
The high-tech office
keeps most computer bugs at bay
For the past few weeks, we've been looking at
utilities, those add-on tools for your computer that you don't miss
until you need them.
The 500-kilogram gorilla of the utility software
industry is Symantec Corp. Its best-known products, Norton
Utilities, Norton AntiVirus, Norton SystemWorks and more, have all been
updated to new 2001 editions.
Of all the features of this wide-ranging set of
products, anti-virus protection is perhaps the most important for
day-to-day computer use. There are a number of well-respected products,
including Network Associates' McAfee VirusScan and Computer
Associates' Innoculate (available in a free version for personal
use from www.ca.com). Arguably, Norton AntiVirus (NAV) is the
best of the bunch and is available in a range of versions, from the
recently updated "corporate" edition to the standard edition for home
and small business users.
NAV 2001 is available on its own ($59) or bundled with
other Symantec utility products such as the $105 Norton Internet
Security and $125 SystemWorks packages. The new edition works with
computers running Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0, 2000, and has added support
for Micro soft's newest, Windows ME. Unlike the previous
edition, there is no longer support for DOS or Windows 3.1 users, who
can still purchase the older NAV 4.0 product. A separate updated Mac
version has also re cently been released.
Like other anti-virus products, NAV scans your system
at boot-up and stays lurking in the background, watching as you insert
floppy disk ettes or open Microsoft Word and Excel data files. In
addition, it sets itself up to work invisibly along with many popular
e-mail programs, checking e-mail attachments as they arrive. In all
cases, it notifies the user if it suspects anything, offering to clean
or delete the potentially dangerous disk or file. It can even look
inside compressed zip (and other format) files for hidden dangers.
The weak link in any anti-virus software is the date
of the data files used. Users are only protected from known dangers,
and new viruses and other dangers are being steadily created. In many
ways, an out-of-date anti-virus program is more dangerous than no
anti-virus program at all, since it leaves the user with a false sense
Early versions of anti-virus software left it up to
the user to go to a Web site and manually download new data files,
hopefully on a regular basis. The last version of Norton AntiVirus went
one step further; it checked the date of its data files every time the
computer booted up. If these were more than 15 days old, it offered to
connect to Symantec, download the latest versions and update the
program automatically. While an improvement, this still required some
user intervention and only worked if the computer was shut down and
restarted. If your computer stayed on all the time, the virus
definitions were never updated.
NAV 2001 fixes this, checking for new data files
automatically when the computer isn't busy. Users who are uncomfortable
with the computer doing this behind their back can choose, either when
install ing the program or later on, to turn this off and go back to
the older manual or semi-automatic up dating methods.
If one of these ways of keeping your virus definition
files reasonably up to date works for you, you can probably keep going
with an older version of an anti-virus program. And after you get those
latest virus definition files, take a moment and surf over to www.vmyths.com.
There, Rob Rosenberger hopes to educate the public about the
many urban myths that spread widely about computer viruses.
While computer viruses are real, there's no doubt that
the media and vendors have helped create a level of paranoia that
outstrips the real dangers. Along with a dose of anti-virus medicine, vmyths.com
will help you keep it all in perspective.