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ISSUE 499: The high-tech office- May 18 1999


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 security.

Both Symantec ( and Network Associates ( 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 computer.

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. *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan