Computer experts recently named viruses, worms and Trojan Horses the largest computer threats facing businesses in 2005. Unfortunately, many building service contractors aren’t too sure what these threats really are or how damaging they can be.

Knowing a little what, why and how can help in dealing with these problems.

Corrupted characteristics
Viruses, worms and Trojan Horses are what’s known as “malware,” short for malicious software. Malware are specifically designed programs made to disrupt computer systems.

“[These] programs are various types of hidden, unwanted electronic threats. For the most part they don’t damage your hardware, only your software, system configuration and valuable date,” says Jim Kelton, president, SoftwareUnlimited, Irvine, Calif.

Most people have at least heard the term “virus” at some point or another. A virus is a program or piece of code loaded onto a computer without the user’s knowledge and runs against his wishes, explains Kelton. Viruses may delete files, corrupt documents or use up the computer’s memory.

Worms are special types of viruses. They replicate themselves and use up a computer’s memory. Unlike a virus, a worm spreads by itself from computer to computer, infecting entire systems. Worms oftentimes rename files, hide files, overwrite data or replicate files with other versions of the worm.

A Trojan Horse, meanwhile, masquerades itself as a benign application, says Kelton. Though the Trojan Horse can’t replicate itself, the destructive program deletes data, puts viruses in computers or opens security holes that allow hackers to come in and do further damage.

Where do they come from?
As problematic as not knowing what malware is and what it does, is how user’s get them in the first place.

The most common way for businesses to receive malware is through e-mail and e-mail attachments. Users should be careful when opening e-mail from untrusted sources. If the e-mail contains an attachment (even if it was sent by a trusted source) make sure you were expecting it. Worms can send themselves to addresses found in a computer address book. So, even if the name on the e-mail may be familiar, the attachment could be harmful.

Back-up plan
Unfortunately, there’s no advance warning signs of malware. In many cases, contractors won’t know their system has been damaged until they try and use it, says Kelton.

For these scenarios, it is wise to have a method of backing up the system configuration and data. Reliable back-up plans include storing media off-site, says Kelton.

“This way, you will have your information available to you even in the event of a disaster such as a fire,” he adds. “The frequency of backing up your systems depends upon the criticality of the information to be protected. The more valuable the information, the more frequently it should be backed up and stored off-site.”

Since malware could wipe out the entire hard drive, computer systems may need to be recreated from the back-up media.

Once a back-up solution is in place, the second step is to install anti-virus software, says Kelton. Since new threats emerge on a weekly basis, most organizations have the software configured to automatically check for new updates, he adds.

More problems
Besides destroying data, malware also disrupts a company’s flow. Computer professionals will most likely need to be brought in to restore computer systems. BSCs should be concerned about how well operations can run without a computer system, says Kelton. Computer downtime can be especially troublesome for BSCs who run time-card programs or GPS vehicle tracking programs.

Having a reliable backup plan, however, can help minimize a company’s downtime and get systems up and running as normal.

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