Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2003 / 7 Elul, 5763

Worms derail laptop talk, spur advice on minimizing damage

By James Coates | (KRT) Today's column will offer one worm-bitten wretch's advice about some unconventional ways to prevent getting overrun by worms, viruses, dialers, jokesters, blended threats, macro viruses, Trojan horses and other Internet vermin.

But first a word about how the great Internet worm infestation of `03 messed up my plans for the week:

Before the Internet got blitzed by the MSBlaster.exe worm, the Sobig.f worm and the notorious Klez worm, today's column plan had been to discuss how laptop computers make more sense this back-to-school season.

Portables, I was going to demonstrate, have become far less expensive even as they boast the kinds of business-strength hard drive space, processor speeds, memory and networking powers once confined to bulky desktops.

Before the worms burrowed deep into the binary beat, my focus was on Gateway's ultracheap $800 model m305s and Emachines' new $1,200 Mobile widescreen M5310 with 15.1-inch display, high-speed 802.11g wireless connectivity, 40 gigabyte hard drive and AMD mobile chip.

Now all I can say is check them out at, where the m305s is on sale, and, where a list of stores carrying the fast-selling Mobile widescreen is posted.

Now let's turn to worms.

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Let's be brutal. Here are three ways to avoid getting wormed:

Move to Macintosh OS X, which has hardly any virus/worm/Trojan horse problems largely because fewer than 3 percent of sales now go to Apple, thereby keeping Macs off the hackers' screens.

In recent years OS X has become so Windows friendly that one can now use a Macintosh to run most of Microsoft Office and do everything on the Internet available to the overwhelming Windows majority.

One part of Office that OS X lacks is Outlook, home to and target for the bulk of hack vandals. A substitute called Entourage works very nicely for e-mail, and you can tell your IT staff that it now can be synched with Microsoft Exchange Server for network e-mail, calendars and memos.

Since the worst of today's digital vandalism is based on aspects of either Windows XP or Microsoft Office for Windows, Macs should be bulletproof for some time to come. Mac users even get shielded from pop-ups and other mischief with Safari, Apple's new Web browser.

If you must stick with Windows, as most of us must, then get paranoid about backups. If you're running Windows XP, your computer probably has high-speed USB 2.0 ports and maybe FireWire ports as well. So buy yourself an external USB 2 or FireWire hard drive from Maxtor, Western Digital, Buslink or LaCie. Figure $150 for 60 gigabytes.

Plug the hard drive into your computer and drag absolutely every bit of data on your computer onto the external drive. Do this every day, and when you're done, disconnect the external drive from the USB 2 or FireWire ports to isolate your digital treasures if the computer gets wormed.

Many plug-in drives come with automatic data backup software that will simplify things. But be sure to unplug them when the backup is done.

With all data protected on a stand-alone hard drive, even if your PC gets slimed by worms, you're out of the woods. Just use the restoration CDs that came with the computer to reinstall the operating system and your software.

If your PC didn't come with restore CDs, check out DriveImage 7 by PowerQuest 7 at This $70 software will make a Windows backup CD set for you.

Do not accept e-mail with attachments and do not open e-mail messages unless you know the sender.

It's time to do to e-mail attachments what Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley did to cans of spray paint used by gangbangers for graffiti. Ban them outright and ignore the howls of complaint sure to follow.

The fact is the greatest damage occurs when somebody opens an attachment and clicks on its icon. The Sobig.f worm that still is bloating mailboxes worldwide started when a few thousand dupes opened an attachment that they thought was going to be a neat screen saver. Booby-trapped screen saver files with the .scr extension or .pif files designed to run DOS games and such were the payloads that launched Sobig. Now anybody who gets any of that Sobig e-mail and clicks on attached files will further propagate the mess.

Corporate IT folks just strip all .scr and .pif attachments (among others) and are done with it. You must do the same with those attachments and others. Deep-six them all.

This won't stop us from getting hit by massive mail floods triggered by others, but as word about shunning attachments spreads, vandals must find new vulnerabilities.

When I get e-mail with attached Microsoft Word files, purported Adobe PDFs and other attachments, I fire back a note telling the sender to either include the material in the text of a message or buy a stamp.

In short, trust nobody. If you must open something, consider the source and remember this: If your Mom sends an e-mail saying ILOVEYOU, it's a worm. You can look it up on Google.

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James Coates is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Let us know what you think of rthis column by clicking here.


09/02/03: PrismIQ pumps Net music to stereo system; "Iexplore has caused an error in USER.EXE. Iexplore will now close down." — why?
08/27/03: Simple click cleans desktop of icon clutter; getting rid of program 'junk' and saving space
08/25/03: PCAnywhere, broadband can work together; site continues to write into my Favorites subfolder located in the c:¼documents and settings¼user directory; recurring problem with editing and saving Word documents both when using my computer running Windows 98 and another computer running XP Home Edition
08/14/03: PC monitoring of a home easy but not cheap; best of the bunch for PDA/cellphones
08/12/03: Balky AOL 8.0 easily replaced by past version; deleting selected Web site addresses in the drop-down list; clicking on e-mail hyperlink message when using Outlook Express and Internet Explorer, has to minimize the Outlook Express window in order to view the site
08/06/03: When assistant is away, Acrobat puts files in play; getting PowerPoint to play complete song through the presentation without the song starting over on each slide; downloading attachments on Hotmail gets Outlook Express error message
08/04/03: Best way to E-mail photo; firewall recommendation; removing all listing of files that have been created in Microsoft's Word program; stopping annoying Windows 98 dialogue box appears asking to Enter Network Password
07/31/03: Check with IT, then cancel dial mode to use DSL; converting text to audio?; easy to get non-conventional alphabets to display in e-mail and Web sites
07/29/03: Display quality may suffer with Web accelerator; typing symbols not on keyboard; programs were not uninstalled correctly, now what?
07/23/03: How to add the Mail Merge command to the Word toolbar; how to save as a Word doc; company that offers a file/folders print program?
07/17/03: Pay off the spam mongers?; converting casually recorded speech on analog audiotapes to computer text; more on homepage hijackings (browsers)
07/15/03: E-mailed spreadsheets are being received with formulas changed and different figures; two computers with router --- way to print from one that does not have any printers connected to it
07/10/03: Washing laptop; security for your PC — don't be had; needing an AirCard to surf
07/07/03: Don't spend like a pro to convert audio to CDs; "browser hijackings"; automatically checking a CD
07/02/03: Saving time on distribution lists; he changed the color of the fonts in just that one spreadsheet file; not enough space on 'c' drive, lots on 'd'
06/25/03: How to get rid of porn spam; Windows XP dictionary?; Windows ME system can no longer find the Internet with Windows applications
06/25/03: NT flashes "at least one service/driver failed during system startup"; automatically converting .doc and .xls files to .dat; transfers to XP not as vexing as they may seem
06/19/03: Can't open Zip files; RealPlayer won't play .avi files; step-by-step process to "burn" digital images
06/18/03: Restore missing Word task bars in a normal way; computer was zapped, how to fix it; spell check won't upgrade

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