Virus – Fatal Error

Compare the cost of protecting your small business from computer viruses with the potential damage they can cause.

Small businesses, as a group, comprise the biggest employer in the U.S. If you own or work for one that’s been around for a while, you know how the times have changed.

Twenty years ago, you did everything on paper.

Today, your business is likely PC-based – at significant cost. All your business’s financial records are in financial software programs. Your correspondence is in Microsoft Word or Word Perfect. Your client records are in Access or FileMaker Pro.

You might generate business through e-commerce, and you may depend heavily on e-mail for business correspondence. If you have a Web site, but haven’t set it up to take orders, e-mail is a major revenue channel.

Perfect world in comparison, right? Hardly. Devastating computer viruses and worms can bring businesses, large, medium and small, to their knees.

Estimates are that the “Love Bug” worm will wind up costing as much as $12 billion worldwide. Much of that is productivity lost when the Love Bug paralyzed e-mail systems globally.

What made the Love Bug unique and terrifying was how it was written. Most viruses in the past were written in standard computer languages that interacted with your computer and, in some cases, wiped your hard drive clean, in others cases caused wacky performance, among many other problems.

Computer network administrators and some of the companies that provide antiviral programs became accustomed to bugs written in conventional computer languages. In effect, by focusing on those, they let their guard down. The Love Bug exploited that chink in the firewall because it was written in Visual Basic, a scripting language developed by Microsoft. It was previously not thought to be a threat.

Because that e-mail was sent with the Love Bug attachment, with the extension .vbs (a Visual Basic file extension) via Microsoft Outlook, it got through conventional defenses undetected. Worse, there was no way to stop or eradicate it when it first struck.

It progressed almost geometrically as it coursed its way through the world’s e-mail systems. Fortunately, the major virus-protection software vendors quickly wrote antidotes. That helped stop it. (To see the actual virus in safe text form, visit http://abcnews.go.com/sections/tech/DailyNews/virustext_000504.html.)

While the Love Bug was bad enough, virus experts are bracing for variants and other far more destructive viruses they believe are under development. Their greatest concern is that while we were able to develop an antidote for the Love Bug not long after it hit, we may not be able to stop the next one. Other worries involve “stealth” viruses. Those could get into a computer network, collect passwords and credit card data, send those data back to the hacker’s e-mail address, all without ever being detected.

For small businesses, the real dilemma is the cost of protection. Normally on tight budgets, companies having to buy antiviral software for, say, 25 computers, would find such an expense more than they’re willing to pay. So it’s understandable that many small business computers aren’t protected. Nonetheless, given the Love Bug’s myriad variants and the threats of new, more destructive viruses, not buying it could be a fatal error.

For more information about antiviral software, I recommend visiting, www.mcafee.com, www.symantec.com and www.europe.datafellows.com/v- descs/love.htm

Article – Copyright 2000 James H. Hyde. Syndicated by ParadigmTSA

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