This week saw some of the worst infestations of computer viruses and worms on record.
Viruses, worms, and "Trojans" are little programs that enter your computer through attachments in malicious e-mail. Some will shut your computer down altogether and destroy your data. Others copy themselves by going into your e-mail address book and sending what look like e-mails from you (containing the virus or worm) to your friends, relatives, and business associates.
Most virus writers target Microsoft Windows operating systems (and the Microsoft Outlook e-mail program), because that's what most people use. Writers exploit security flaws in Microsoft's programs. Microsoft often issues fixes that shut out the malicious code, but many users ignore them.
Several simple steps can help you protect your computer:
• Visit Microsoft's update site and download the security patches. (Most Windows systems have a "Live Update" feature that will tell you when an update is available.)
• Install a "firewall" on your computer. This software prevents external servers and programs from tinkering with your computer's hard drive without your permission.
• Install antivirus software and keep it updated.
Microsoft must write more-secure software. The company is considering making Live Update an automatic feature. That's probably a good idea. But users must also be responsible for protecting their computers and data.