Protect Yourself From Computer Malware

— -- What can you do to keep the Kama Sutra worm from destroying documents in your computer when it strikes on Friday?

The malicious software program threatens to damage thousands of computers, security experts warned this week. The worm may already be hiding on many PC users' hard drives, and experts say it is programmed to attack on Feb 3.

Kama Sutra is designed to eat files that end in .doc, .zip and .pdf.

Vincent Weafer, the senior director of security response for the anti-virus company Symantec, shared some ideas on how to protect a PC from Kama Sutra and how to keep it safe from future infections.

Free anti-virus scan. "If for some reason you think they're not up to date, or you think they've been compromised or you've never had anti-virus on your computer to date," explained Weafer, "there's free removal detection tools on the [anti-virus] Web sites -- being one. Download it to your machine, scan your machine and if it exists on the machine, it will remove it."

These free tools are available from trusted anti-virus companies and can detect and remove Kama Sutra if your machine has been infected. "The tool runs independent of any anti-virus software. Even if you think you're OK, it costs you nothing to download."

Make sure your virus definitions are up to date. As malicious hackers develop increasingly sinister methods of infecting computers, anti-virus software makers are trying to keep up. If you have anti-virus software on your computer, it likely has some kind of built in updater that'll keep it current and protect your computer from the latest threats.

Back up your data. Weafer says this should be done regularly and that no one should wait until their computer is infected with Kama Sutra or any other malware before doing so. "Back up your user data, your critical documents, letters, schoolwork, whatever. If you're not doing it, start doing it today." Weafer says that when you back up your files, make sure you back them up to an external or removable device like a USB hard drive or burn them onto a CD or DVD. "If worse comes to worst tomorrow and your computer goes up in flames, there it is safe and secure in another area."

Use passwords and make them hard to crack. This is always a good idea, but Weafer says particularly on home networks where a family may share documents, printers and more. "Password protect your shares [shared documents] and make sure it's not an easy password, because this worm, like many worms, will try to guess easy passwords. So make it something a little complex." Instead of using birthdays or pets' names, Weafer suggests using a phrase and using both upper- and lower-case letters, something like "ILoveYouMom." He also says you can try substituting symbols for letters. Instead of FIDO try F1DO, using the "1" in place of the "I." Anything that makes it harder to guess makes your computer safer.

Secure your network with multiple layers of protection. By adding a firewall at the router level, having up-to-date anti-virus software and by taking other preventive measures, you can add several layers of protection. If the firewall doesn't catch an infection, your anti-virus software should and vice versa. Weafer says to have "a combination of a personal firewall, anti-virus [software] and intrusion prevention or content filtering.]

Free doesn't really mean 'free.' Be careful when downloading what looks like free software from any Web site, as some include malicious ad-ware and spyware that can cause problems and leave you susceptible to an attack. "Read the user agreement. If you can't understand it or it's nonexistent, that's a warning sign don't download it."