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[nafex] Computer health/viruses/attachments

It seems that a rather nasty virus was recently posted to this list as an attachment. Like many modern computer viruses, it is activated when the attachment is opened. The problem (and the solutions) come down to a convenience vs. security question.

In the past you had to actually RUN an attachment to activate the virus, but many of the "improvements" to the Windows operating system that improve ease of use make the system vulnerable to certain types of attachments. In the past certain DATA files were merely associated with an executable file on your computer; now there are macro, script, and information files that in many respects act as executable files, so that "opening" what might seem to be a data file actually runs a PROGRAM that in some instances can carry a viral payload. Automatic running of files is VERY convenient, but potentially dangerous.

The question is what to do.

Ban the person who posted the attachment?
Temporary suspension might have some merit, but I'm not inclined to permanently ban anyone as typically these messages are not deliberately posted to the list. In any event I can't monitor all postings in real time, and much of the damage can potentially be done before any suspension is accomplished. As an aside, hopefully some of the energy generated in replying to this problem was channeled into notifying Kevin that the problem existed (I did, but 3 days after the fact.)

No attachments to the list?
Tom Olenio suggested this idea, and it has some merit, but there comes that convenience factor again. Some group members (including one very active member) participate primarily through email alone, so accessing a web site is either inconvenient or unworkable for a variety of reasons. Also, accessing the web site takes some additional effort (which will certainly exceed some subscribers threshold) and will result in less replies to a "what's eating my plant?" type question.

**I am however, inclined to give this one a try after a suitable period for those OPPOSED to voice their case for leaving as is.**

Subscriber security.
Hmmm. The world has changed in many ways, and in many places you can't leave your house or car unlocked, or set down your wallet and expect it to be there when you come back. The internet is one of those places, but it's even worse than the real world because people you know and trust can be duped into causing you harm without ever implicating the original perpetrator.

I would advise everyone to check out the many resources on the internet about viruses and security. Here's a brief summary of what many of those sites will say. (IF you have questions, search those sites for more info!)

1. Beware of any email attachments that you are not expecting. Typically viruses will contain generic message like "here's that info you wanted" as opposed to "here a photo of what's been chewing the terminal leaves of my Granny Smith apple" along with other descriptive info. On the flip side when you are sending an attachment, refer to its presence in the body of your message, and do something to "personalize" the message specifically for the recipient.

2. Beware of convenience settings in your operating system and email programs. This is especially true if you use the mainstream programs like MS Outlook, which virus writers will sometimes specifically target because of its broad user base. I have the "Hide file extensions for known file types" unchecked in Windows Explorer, and I NEVER enable macros or automatically open attachments even from someone I trust, because there isn't a need for me to do that. Less convenient, way safer. I also use an email program other than MS Outlook--Pegasus email in my case (it's still free!) or Eudora are two I would recommend.

3. Be security conscious. A virus program that runs in the background is a good start (but only as good as the last update!) and I would also recommend a firewall program like ZoneAlarm (www.zonelabs.com) which monitors OUTGOING traffic (good for Trojan horse programs). And way down on the convenience scale, and one that is good for computer crashes (where I learned the lesson) as well as data distruction by viruses, is regular computer back ups--especially for data!

Greg Miller