A version of this article first appeared in the March/April 2002 issue of Ancestry Magazine
Most of us are somewhere in between these two ends of this spectrum of reaction. Dealing with computer viruses is simply one of the costs of sharing information via computers. Since sharing our research is a big part of genealogy, we family historians tend to be more concerned about sharing the "bad" as well as the "good".
Because of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt surrounding computer viruses, genealogy mailing list subscribers often start behaving as if the world were ending when confronted by a computer virus. In an effort to interdict these panic attacks, this article will address some of the common concerns regarding computer viruses and genealogy mailing lists.
For more information on computer viruses, your web browser at
Cyndi's List - Computer Viruses at http://www.cyndislist.com/internet.htm#Viruses
for variety of informative links. Read up on what computer viruses are and what they can do. Education is one of your best defenses against computer viruses.
Obviously, family historians obsessed with data preservation have neither the time nor the inclination to create these malicious programs. If you are unfortunate enough to receive a virus from a fellow genealogists, odds are high that they not only didn't create the virus but may be completely unaware that they are themselves infected. Many of the recent computer viruses which spread via e-mail hide their presence from the computer's owner. They then use the e-mail program on that computer to send out infected e-mail messages unbeknownst to the owner.
Symantec's Norton AntiVirus at http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/
McAfee's VirusScan at http://www.mcafee.com/anti-virus/
Both products are excellent and are used extensively by Fortune 500 corporations to protect their PCs. There are dozens and dozens of other anti-virus programs available. Some are even shareware or freeware. This is one of those cases where "you get what you pay for" and it is worthwhile to invest some money into a name-brand anti-virus program. The above two products have worked well for my household and the corporations I have worked for. These products can be configured to be "on" constantly in the background processing of your computer so that they are continuously scanning for incoming viruses.
What this means is that you need to keep your anti-virus software patterns updated on a regular basis. Your anti-virus software can only stop the viruses it knows about and unless you keep it updated, it won't know about the new ones and will let them through. You can do this manually by visiting the vendor's web site to download the new anti-virus patterns. Alternately, the aforementioned two vendors have automatic update features which will make the download of new anti-virus patterns a no-brainer. With automatic updates, your anti-virus software can really be "set and forget".
Good anti-virus software turns receiving a computer virus into a non-event. Configured to constantly scan for viruses as a background process, any incoming e-mail and any attachments are automatically checked for computer viruses. I further configure my software to simply delete the viruses without informing me so that I don't even get a bothersome question about what to do with the virus itself. Combined with automated updates for new anti-virus patterns, such a configuration makes computer viruses no big deal.
The VIRUS-DISCUSSION Mailing List at http://lists.rootsweb.com/index/other/Internet_Help/VIRUS-DISCUSSION.html
Highly unlikely. Most common computer viruses spread themselves via e-mail as attachments to e-mail messages. The RootsWeb genealogy mailing lists scan for and remove attachments sent into the mailing lists. It is possible that computer viruses which spread by e-mail but do not use attachments to do so may be propagated by RootsWeb mailing lists. Such a method of virus propagation is more complex than using attachments and would likely be e-mail software specific. Because of this, the potential for such a virus is limited. There have been no reports of such a virus using the RootsWeb mailing lists to spread itself.
Yes. While the RootsWeb genealogy mailing lists do not spread computer viruses directly to their subscribers, individual subscribers may infect other subscribers. Some recent computer viruses replicate themselves by sending copies of themselves out to anyone the infected person has received e-mails from. This means that if you post a message to a RootsWeb mailing list and an infected subscriber receives it in individual message mode (not digest mode which changes the FROM e-mail address), they may send back a computer virus to your e-mail address directly.
Probably not. They are most likely a victim of the computer virus themselves. Recent computer viruses have the ability to infect a person's e-mail software and send out e-mails to others without a person's knowledge. The person who your virus appears to come from may have no idea that they have a virus or are sending one out to others.
You should e-mail the person who sent you the virus directly if you are able to determine their correct return address from the infected message they sent you. Charitably inform them that they may have a computer virus and that they should run an updated anti-virus program against their machine to clean it up. It is safe to e-mail them since if your anti-virus software stopped the virus from them once, it will likely stop the virus again if your message triggers another one.
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