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Worm Attack

Around the world this week, digital worms have been invading computers at hundreds of thousands of offices and homes. The so-called "Blaster" worm, and variations of it, bog down networks as they search to propagate to other computers.

The hackers behind all this are exploiting a security flaw in some of Microsoft's most recent and popular operating systems. NPR's Chris Arnold reports on the latest attack of computer worms. Following are tips for protecting your computer:

Anti-Virus Software: Install an anti-virus software program, such as those produced by Norton or McAfee, on your computer, and set it to scan your computer regularly for invaders and check for updates to protect against new viruses. But these programs aren't enough; there's often a lag between when a virus hits and when protection or a fix for the virus becomes available.

Email Protection: Worms or viruses are often sent through executable e-mail attachments. Be wary of opening these, even if you know the sender. Executable attachments come with the file extensions such as .com, .exe, .vbs, .pif, .html, among others.

Worms can also infect your machine without opening an executable attachment. Sometimes they travel embedded in "HTML e-mail." Check to see if you can turn off HTML e-mail in your e-mail program and opt to read messages in plain text.

Automatic Update: The Blaster worm used a flaw in Windows operating systems software as its entry into computers. Microsoft has created a downloadable patch to fix the problem and shut the virus out. Some versions of Windows come with an "Automatic Update" feature; consider protecting your computer from future attacks by activating it. This program automatically checks with Microsoft for the latest bug-fix and security patches and delivers them to your system.

The automatic update feature is commonly found under your computer's control panel. An NPR systems administrator has his program settings selected to "Keep my computer up to date" and has set the program to automatically check and install every day at noon for fixes.

Beware, there are risks with installing any patch -- there is a chance the patch could harm your operating system and/or applications you run. However, some industry experts say the benefits of keeping a secure computer may outweigh complications that may arise.

Firewalls: If you have broadband Internet access, such as DSL or a cable modem, experts recommend installing a firewall program. Firewalls let you select which programs on your PC can access the Internet. Why? A malicious intruder might want to use programs on your computer to steal and send out private information. Windows XP comes with a basic firewall; others, such as ZoneAlarm, are freeware.

Sources: NPR, PC Magazine

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.