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The only way to protect your PC permanently from getting a virus is to disconnect from the Internet and never permit any potentially infected software to touch your precious computer Because neither scenario is likely these days, you need to use a specialized antivirus program to help stave off the inevitable virus assaults An antivirus program protects your PC in two ways It can be both sword and shield, working in an active seek-and-destroy mode and in a passive sentry mode When ordered to seek and destroy, the program will scan the computer s boot sector and files for viruses, and if it finds any, present you with the available options for removing or disabling them Antivirus programs can also operate as virus shields that passively monitor your 616
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Figure 1915
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computer s activity, checking for viruses only when certain events occur, such as a program executing or a file being downloaded Antivirus programs use different techniques to combat different types of viruses They detect boot sector viruses simply by comparing the drive s boot sector to a standard boot sector This works because most boot sectors are basically the same Some antivirus programs make a backup copy of the boot sector If they detect a virus, the programs will use that backup copy to replace the infected boot sector Executable viruses are a little more difficult to find because they can be on any file in the drive To detect executable viruses, the antivirus program uses a library of signatures A signature is the code pattern of a known virus The antivirus program compares an executable file to its library of signatures There have been instances where a perfectly clean program coincidentally held a virus signature Usually the antivirus program s creator will provide a patch to prevent further alarms Antivirus programs detect macro viruses through the presence of virus signatures or certain macro commands that indicate a known macro virus Now that we understand the types of viruses and how antivirus programs try to protect against them, let s review a few terms that are often used when describing certain traits of viruses
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Polymorphics/Polymorphs A polymorph virus attempts to change its signature to prevent detection by antivirus programs, usually by continually scrambling a bit of useless code Fortunately, the scrambling code itself can be identified and used as the signature once the antivirus makers become aware of the virus One technique used to combat unknown polymorphs is to have the antivirus program create a checksum on every file in the drive A checksum in this context is a number generated by the software based on the contents of the file rather than the name, date, or size of that file The algorithms for creating these checksums vary among different antivirus programs (they are also usually kept secret to help prevent virus makers from coming up with ways to beat them) Every time a program is run, the antivirus program calculates a new checksum and compares it with the earlier calculation If the checksums are different, it is a sure sign of a virus Stealth The term stealth is more of a concept than an actual virus function Most stealth virus programs are boot sector viruses that use various methods to hide from antivirus software The AntiEXE stealth virus will hook on to a little-known but often-used software interrupt, for example, running only when that interrupt runs Others make copies of innocent-looking files Virus Prevention Tips The secret to preventing damage from a malicious software attack is to keep from getting a virus in the first place As discussed earlier, all good antivirus programs include a virus shield that will scan e-mail, downloads, running programs, and so on automatically (see Figure 1916) Use your antivirus shield It is also a good idea to scan PCs daily for possible virus attacks All antivirus programs include terminate-and-stay resident programs (TSRs) that will run every time the PC is booted Last but not least, know the source of any software before you load it While the chance of commercial, shrink-wrapped software having a virus is virtually nil (there have been a couple of well-publicized exceptions), that illegal copy of Unreal Tournament you borrowed from a local hacker should definitely be inspected with care Keep your antivirus program updated New viruses appear daily, and your program needs to know about them The list of viruses your antivirus program can recognize is called the definition file , and you must keep that definition file up to date Fortunately, most antivirus programs will update themselves automatically Get into the habit of keeping around an antivirus CD-R a bootable, CD-R disc with a copy of an antivirus program If you suspect a virus, use the disc, even if your antivirus program claims to have eliminated the virus Turn off the PC and reboot it from
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