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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | Data Loss and Virus Prevention | Virus Detection and Protection | Virus Infection Mechanisms and Prevention ]

"Digital Hygiene"

Since our objective in preventing virus infection on our PCs is to keep the hard disk "clean", I think collectively of virus avoidance methods as digital hygiene. The idea is simple: much the way you protect your body from infection by being very careful about what you put into it, you need to take precautions to make sure you understand exactly what files and media you are putting into your PC.

The sections that follow discuss common methods of virus infection and some steps you can take to avoid them. Still, it makes sense to bear in mind the following general rules of "digital hygiene":

  • Garbage In, Garbage Out: This is one of those old computer aphorisms that is so true in many cases (both in the computer world and elsewhere). The only way to get a virus infection is by allowing infected software into the PC. Viruses cannot spontaneously generate on a PC.
  • More Connections Means More Risk: The more different ways you interface your PC to others, the more chances there are of a virus making its way onto your system. A standalone PC with a stable software base has much less chance of becoming infected by a virus than a PC shared by multiple users that is connected to a large network.
  • Piracy Has Its Price: While infections from store-bought software happen, they are extremely rare. On the other hand, software that is shared from PC to PC, or worse is obtained from illegal sources, has a much higher chance of being infected.
  • Use Backups: If you have the ability and the discipline to maintain multiple backups of your system over a period of time, this is a useful "last ditch" defense against virus infection. It doesn't really prevent viruses from striking your system, but it can save you in the event that you are unlucky and you suffer data loss due to viruses. (Note that you need to have a reasonably long retention period in your backup cycle for this to work. If you just backup your entire disk onto the same backup tape once every week, then you only have one week at most to catch any given virus before you end up copying it onto the backup tape as well.)
  • Control Access to Your PC: You should be careful about who uses your system. Generally speaking, a PC in an open area used by dozens of people will develop viruses far more often than one on an individual's desk. The reasons are obvious. To prevent the casual use of a PC in an office environment, consider using a boot password (just remember to write down the password in more than one safe place. If you lose it, you will have a problem. See this optimization section for more security measures.

Next: Infection by Floppy Disk (or Other Removable Media)

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