Monday, March 24, 2008

Be Careful Opening Those Cute E-Cards

If you use your computer for email, I am sure that you have received one or more of those cute “E-Cards.” There are several services found on the Web that allow you to design and send greeting cards via email for most any occasion. Some can have music embedded and some even allow you to include short video clips. While most of these electronic missives are harmless, you should exercise some care when opening them. This is especially true if you don’t recognize the sender.

Unfortunately there are all too many people with nothing better to do than to hunker down in their parent’s basement eating potato chips and drinking Mountain Dew™ while figuring out how to make your online life miserable. Their personal challenge is to get into your computer, either to just cause havoc, or in some cases, to actually harvest information. In either case, you don’t want this to happen.
In the case of the E-cards, opening one of these infected cards can release a small program into your computer that can operate undetected by you. These are called “Trojan Horse” programs. Just as in the case of the citizens of ancient Troy, this gift is not to be accepted.

Because most new computers have a ton of memory and copious hard disk space, this infection may not be easy to detect, since at first your computer’s speed and functionality may feel normal.

Another clever tactic of these cyber trouble makers is to offer for free some little program that you can download. For example, you can download from the Weather Channel® web site a small program that will display the local temperature on the bottom of you screen. In the case of the Weather Channel®, this is a perfectly safe thing to do. However, if you get an email offering you a neat screen saver or a short funny movie to download, beware. Opening it can be a disaster.

Once infected, even the most tech savvy person will spend hours and hours cleaning up the mess. In the worst case you may need to wipe the computer’s hard drive clean and start all over again. Not a fun thing to do.

One of the best ways to protect your computer and assure security is to have installed and active a good anti virus and anti “spy-ware” software. There are several good programs from companies like McAfee and Office Trends I have used McAfee at home and Office Trends at work. Both do a good job at sniffing out these nefarious programs. You must keep these programs up to date. In any given week hundreds of new viruses and spy ware programs are released on the internet aimed at causing problems. Both McAfee and Office Trends update themselves automatically making sure that you have the most current protection.

Perhaps sitting down and writing a real note on real paper and placing it in a real envelope is the better course. Nowadays getting something in the mail that is not a bill or a solicitation can be a real joy.

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