How do viruses spread?

  • Email attachments - Viruses may disguise themselves as pictures, screensavers, programs, Word documents, and many other file types. As a rule of thumb, you should never open an attachment that you didn't expect to receive, even if it came from someone you know. Make sure you configure your email software not to automatically open attachments.
    Willamette blocks email viruses at the server level, but this doesn't stop infection through non-Willamette email clients such as Hotmail, Yahoo, or AOL.
  • File sharing - Many viruses will spread themselves through open network shares. This is a huge problem on Willamette's residential network, where file sharing is a very popular activity. You can protect yourself by simply not sharing files or directories over the network. But if you are going to share, you can reduce the risk of becoming infected by write-protecting all of your shared files and folders (mark them read-only), and by installing anti-virus software and keeping the virus definitions up to date.
  • Downloading files or software - If the file you are downloading, or the computer you are downloading it from is infected with a virus, chances are pretty high that your computer might also become infected with the virus. Avoid downloading files from another computer unless you have verified with the computer's owner that proper anti-virus software is installed and up-to-date.
  • Instant messaging, IRC, ICQ, etc - The biggest risk here comes from accepting files from other users on the network. You can minimize the risk by configuring your software not to automatically accept files, and not to automatically run the files you accept.
  • Floppy disks - A clean floppy disk can become infected when it is used in a computer with a virus infection. If an infected floppy disk is used in a clean computer, that computer can also become infected with the virus. If you believe that your floppy disk might be infected with a virus, you can bring it to the Smullin 119 computer lab and scan it using Symantec AntiVirus (installed on all lab PCs).
    WITS does not recommend the use of floppy disks.
  • Web pages - Certain viruses have been known to infect web servers, and in theory, if you visit a website that is hosted on an infected server, your computer could become infected with the virus. This method of infection is rare. It has never happened on the Willamette campus that WITS is aware of.