Simple precautions guard against computer viruses

One of my clients recently suffered a computer virus outbreak. The problem was quickly contained and the point of introduction found and dealt with, but it was a great cause of concern that it happened at all.

The ‘post viral’ inquest revealed some worrying attitudes and general ignorance of computer viruses and security procedures in general.

The silver lining of this particularly nasty cloud is that everyone in the firm concerned is now aware of the risks of viruses. But in case there are any readers who are still unaware of viruses or think they are not their concern let me remind you of their implications:

* Potential irrevocable damage to a client relationship should a virus be passed on.

* The damaging impact on your firm’s “image” – bad news travels fast and hangs around for some time.

* Interruption of normal service as resources are diverted to the removal of the virus and restoration of any lost data. It can take weeks to put right in the worst cases.

Computer virus outbreaks don’t just happen. Staff introduce them, either by allowing their PCs to read contaminated floppy disks or by downloading infected information from external sources, such as other computers or bulletin boards.

To minimise the risk of infection you should follow these simple procedures:

* Whenever you receive a floppy disk from outside your own firm run it through a virus checker programme before using it. A quick scan of a PC magazine will reveal any number of suitable programmes. Windows users may not be aware that Microsoft’s Antivirus for Windows software is part of the Windows package and is obtainable from the MWAW icon in the accessories menu.

* If you use any bulletin board services or similar external information/data source check with your IT department or supplier before downloading any files.

* Always virus check any floppy disk you are sending outside of your firm before it leaves the office.

* Do not work on any of your firm’s computer data using a PC which is not owned and supported by your firm. Take particular care with partner/staff home PCs as many contain games and other types of copied software thus creating a greater risk.

* Do not load any software or data onto your firm’s computers without consulting your IT department or supplier beforehand.

These procedures work. I know of at least one instance where adherence to this set of rules prevented some inconvenient and embarrassing situations.

Some firms are including virus protection measures as part of an overall computer security policy which is also included in their staff’s terms of employment. It becomes everyone’s responsibility to ensure these policies are followed and failure to do so can result in disciplinary action.

Just like humans catching a cold, your PC can pick up a computer virus. You can’t ensure that you don’t get the sniffles, but you can stop your PC becoming infected by a computer virus by adopting these straightforward preventative measures.

John Irving is an independent IT consultant.