Virus protection: Prevention, detection, response

Viruses have always made my skin crawl. I can't fathom the mindset of a programmer who willingly creates code designed to seek out and damage the computer systems of others. Fortunately, the IT community has been spared serious widespread disasters due to oversights, ineptitude or sheer bad luck on the side of the virus authors. Yes, there are numerous incidents of companies being thoroughly trashed due to one virus or another, but not since the famous Internet worm back before the word Web meant something more than spider silk has the Internet as a whole really been threatened. This scares me.

There are dozens of instances of malicious code from the last six months alone that if they were properly coded or had been given just a few more hours or days of unhindered activity could have brought the Internet to its knees. Some failed to properly reproduce, others failed to initiate on their trigger event, and others simply didn't spread fast enough. I think we are long overdue for a virus that finally makes us realize the Internet and the supporting technologies are just not good enough to provide real security from malicious code.

So, what do I recommend? Well, every network, system and computer needs to have a three part tactical plan implemented to help prevent, stop and recover from virus damages. First and foremost, every system should have antivirus software installed and properly maintained. This means regular virus dictionary updates as well as being properly

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configured. Your antivirus software should scan every file stored on every local storage device on a periodic basis and should scan every bit of information before it is saved to a drive or brought into the system through any communication means. But remember that antivirus software is only as good as its dictionary. Thus, any new or unknown viruses will not be detected.

To protect from new viruses, you need to have a detection tool in place. An integrity verification tool can be used to monitor when files change. However, for the integrity tool be to effective, you'll need to run it against your system before you are infected to establish a baseline against which to compare all future scans.

Another essential preparation is to keep good backups of your data, if not every bit stored on your systems. With good backups you can always restore files that have been damaged.

The final aspect of proper virus defense is to be prepared to respond if your system or systems ever become infected. The first step I recommend taking is disconnecting any and all communication cables. This will prevent any further spread of the infection to other systems on your network or over the Internet. Don't let your system be a source of infecting others. Only return your system to the network after you are sure you've eradicated the virus. Most virus software vendors are able to produce a detection tool, if not a cleaning tool, for new viruses within 48 hours of identification. So, wait until the update is available, download it on an un-infected system, transfer it to a floppy or CD, then install it onto your infected system, run the scan to clean your system, then you can return to normal connectivity and activity.

James Michael Stewart is a partner and researcher for ITinfopros, a technology-focused writing and training organization.

This was first published in July 2003

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