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PC World

Protect yourself from the next Melissa



Has Melissa inspired you to take stronger anti-virus precautions with your computer?

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April 5, 1999
Web posted at: 12:39 p.m. EDT (1639 GMT)

by Christian McIntosh

(IDG) -- The Melissa virus cut a mighty path, paralyzing e-mail servers and leaving many companies scrambling for solutions.

While Thursday's arrest of suspected creator David L. Smith may close this saga, a closer analysis raises more questions than answers. Chief on most victims' minds: What can we do to prevent something like the Melissa disaster from happening in the future?

Fortunately, there are measures average Netizens can take. Several prominent antivirus firms offer preemptive solutions, but users must be conscientious too.

Push solutions

McAfee, a division of Network Associates, offers SecureCast, push technology that alerts customers to new virus outbreaks, mutations, upgrades, and definitions as such information becomes available.

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"We employ SecureCast to proactively push vulnerabilities within a network or an environment," says Sal Viveros, group marketing manager for McAfee's Total Virus Defense team. SecureCast is a free service available to all McAfee customers.

Researchers with McAfee's AntiVirus Emergency Response Team, or AVERT, acted immediately upon learning about the Melissa virus. "We contacted prime support customers by phone and e-mail," Viveros says.

AVERT engineers traced Melissa's origin to a Usenet posting credited to and played an instrumental role in the suspect's arrest.

McAfee also hosts VirusScan Online, a free service on McAfee's Web site that can assess system security and detect viruses. "Anyone from the general public can come in and scan their hard drive at any time," Viveros adds.

Risk evaluation

Symantec is improving its automatic detection system by improving its heuristic engine, which evaluates program behaviors to identify potential virus risks.

LiveUpdate, a Symantec antivirus service, pushes virus updates to registered Symantec customers. "It's really a client check," says Enrique Salem, Symantec's chief technology officer. "It's a scheduled component that checks frequently for new virus threats."

Trend Micro Thursday announced "smart detection" for autospam viruses. Developed in response to Melissa, smart detection quarantines all macro-enabled documents and detects variants of the Melissa, Papa, and Madcow or Syndicate viruses.

Some companies are taking virus protection matters into their own hands. Cognos, a software company ravaged by the Melissa virus, configured its mail servers to block incoming e-mail attachments exceeding 25KB.

But as antivirus researchers work to develop solutions, Salem reminds us that "the best preventative measure people still can take is to install reliable virus detection software."

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