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Q: I have received an email from Microsoft stating that there is a new security update available that fixes some security risks. The email contained the patch for me to install, should I do this right away as it advises? - John in London, Ontario
A: Definitely not. Delete this email immediately and delete any similar emails. This email is not just an annoying hoax it is a computer virus. The virus is known as W32.Swen.A@mm. Viruses of this sort rely on the receiver to trust an email that appears to come directly from Microsoft. The question you have to ask yourself is why would Microsoft be sending you an email. The answer is they wouldn't, Microsoft takes computer security seriously and does not send out advisories of this sort, ever. They rely on you to check their page for any security patches, and even if they did send an email out to every Windows user they would not include the patch in the email, they would include a link to Microsoft's website where you could download the patch. Microsoft has an article on their site entitled
"How to Tell If a Microsoft Security-Related Message Is Genuine," Microsoft, that will help you identify fake messages such as you described.
If you have been fooled by this email already don't panic there is hope for you yet. If you have run this "patch" your computer is infected with a virus and you will need to clean your system of the virus. If you have a virus scanner your scanner should clean the system for you if you run a scan, assuming you have kept it up to date, if not you will have to update your virus scanner first. If you do not have a virus scanner, get one, but in the mean time Symantec has a handy cleaning tool specifically made for this virus. Once you have followed the removal instructions you should reboot your system and repeat the instructions just to be sure that the virus is indeed gone, sometimes viruses can reinstall themselves on boot up. If you get a message saying no viruses found after booting up you should be ok, if it still finds the virus go through the instructions and reboot the computer again. For WindowsXP users you may want to system restore function to prevent XP from reloading the virus itself.
As a general rule you should never trust an email attachment unless you knew the person who sent you the email, and you knew that the person was sending the attachment. Any unsolicited attachments should be deleted without opening them. Attachments are one of the most common means of virus infections in computers.
Symantec's virus database a great place to look up viruses.
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Q: I get a lot of email from advertisers, how do I get rid of them? - Stephen in Brantford Ontario
A: What you are receiving is generally called Spam. Spam is any unsolicited email and it is the bane of the Internet. Generally speaking spammers are kind enough to include a way to get off their mailing lists. Don't fall for this,prtect you computer's security, it is a trick, they use these forms to verify that the address they collected is indeed a valid address. Spammers take the list of verified addresses and sell them to other spammers.
Eliminating spam is considerably more difficult then one might presume. While there are countless anti-spam programs out there most of them only catch a small percentage of the incoming spam, plus there is always a fee involved. Unfortunately the only sure-fire way to eliminate all spam is to change your email address and be careful who you give your email address to. I would suggest you have two email addresses, one you use to give out to any company or anywhere on the internet, the other you use to give people you actually want to contact you. You can use your fake email address to sign up for websites that require you to have an email address, this protects your real address from spammers. It also provides you some computer security and computer privacy.
The reason you never want to use your real address on the Internet is that even if the site you are submitting your address at promises to never sell your information they might publish your email address in a forum where spammers scan for new email addresses. If you are using a fake address you can just check it for any confirmation messages or membership forms and ignore everything else. You can use the address you are already receiving spam as your fake address and just set up a new one. You could have your ISP (Internet Service Provider) change your existing address and set up a free web based address on Hotmail or Yahoo to use as your fake address. If you use a free mail service you must make sure that you log on occasionally to keep the account active, if you do not do so the account will be terminated an you may lose access to sites where you have used this fake address.
Spam is almost inevitable for anyone who surfs the web, however if you make sure you protect your address you can minimize the impact spam has on you. Spam rank right behind computer secuirty concerns and computer privacy issues for most personal pc users.
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Coming soon: more information about computer security and computer privacy