Virus hysterics….

Ye gods and goddesses, this sort of thing appears to be designed to drive the likes of me up the bloody wall. I really don’t understand how (and why) people can be so… well, gullible is the first word that springs to mind. Swiftly followed, in the case of some people, by the word dumb. If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about – yep, I’ve spent a large (and wasted) chunk of this week getting annoyed by the hysterical reaction to the so-called Fancheck virus.

For those who don’t know, this is the deal. Fancheck is a dubious Facebook app that appears to violate FB’s privacy rules (and which, it seems, should have been got rid of by FB long before this point was reached), which somehow got very popular over the last few weeks. Seemingly because of the fact that the app functions so badly (and because FB has been so glitchy recently), a rumour got started that Fancheck was actually a virus of some kind (it’s not, but when has that ever stopped the hysterical momentum of such Chinese whispers-type rumours?).

However, it is possible that the rumour started (or was at least played on) as part of a nasty ruse by the kind of spammers and malicious hackers who populate the darker corners of teh interwebs, because when the hysterical sheeple masses did a Google search for the Fancheck ‘virus’ and then clicked on the seemingly helpful links that promised to get rid of said ‘virus’, they were actually installing malware and spyware onto their computers. And as more and more people, thinking they were being alert and helpful, informed their FB friends of this ‘virus’, more and more people were searching for the solution and thus infecting their computers with the kind of crap that is genuinely an absolute pig to remove. Oh dear.

I get a lot of emails and messages purporting to be virus warnings from well-meaning but not-thinking friends (like most people, I suspect), which gets right up my nose, because there are easy and quick ways of checking whether or not you’ve been sold a pup when you receive one of these messages. PLEASE think twice before you forward these things; I check them when they arrive in my inbox and, believe me, 99.9% of them end up being dumped in the spam file or deleted. I consider myself to be relatively tech-savvy (and I am, admittedly, lucky in that I have a number of friends who are knowledgeable IT professionals), but I also freely admit that I don’t understand half of what goes on with my computer! However, even if you don’t have a friendly computer geek at the end of the phone line, there is no excuse for not educating yourself in how to stay safe online – it is easy to prevent viruses and malware etc getting onto your computer. Here’s how I do it (and – touch wood – I’ve yet to have a problem with malicious software or viruses on either this laptop or my old PC, despite the fact that no security system can ever be 100% effective):

– Install and keep up-to-date decent anti-virus and other security software. Shell out the cash and buy it. I use McAfee, but there are loads of other choices out there. This catches most of the nasty crap that might infect your computer.

STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER! Seriously. It is FULL of bugs and security holes which are happily exploited by malicious hackers – and it slows your computer right down to a crawl. Most websites these days are just not designed to be seen at their best with IE, whichever version you have. So what do you replace it with? I’m a recent and very happy convert to Mozilla Firefox (in fact, I wish I’d installed it years ago!), which is recommended by a lot of IT professionals. It’s much faster, MUCH more secure and allows you to see websites in all their glory too.

THINK!!!! Honestly, do. Think before you click on a link, think when you’re visiting a website you don’t know. If it asks you to download something before you can continue, ask yourself why. Check the URL. Is it the correct one for the site you think you are visiting? Be aware and be cautious. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

– Don’t pass on virus warnings until and unless you’ve checked them with a reputable source (and run a scan of your own computer too – if there is a problem, your anti-virus software should pick up on it). A good site to visit to check the validity of virus warnings is the excellent Snopes is also a fun read if you want to debunk a few urban myths (I used it a lot while researching for my old blog). If the problem is concerning a social networking site (FB/MySpace/Twitter etc), check There are, I am sure, other sites that do the same job – if anyone knows of any good ones, please feel free to leave a comment here.

I’m aware that this sounds like I’m trying to teach grandmother to suck eggs here, but it’s amazing how many people go into hysterical headless chicken mode when they’re confronted with what they think is a problem with something they don’t understand (like computers). I’m not a computer expert, but I’ve easily educated myself to be aware online – and so can you.

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