The lowdown on antivirus protection

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The virus vigil

Do I need antivirus protection on my work computer at home? Not if you don't mind losing your work and personal data, potentially spreading a malicious worm to everyone in your e-mail address book, including work colleagues, or risking other dangers.

The more serious answer is that every computer connected to the Internet'either via a persistent connection or even a dial-up service'can be attacked by a virus or worm, chiefly through e-mail, but also through instant messaging, Java scripts and other devices. Antivirus software is a means of protecting against such attacks.

How do antivirus scanners work? Most antivirus software is based on definitions of viruses and worms, as found and diagnosed by users and technicians at software publishers. These definitions are then made available to users on a periodic basis, usually over the Internet. When an incoming e-mail or file matches the definition, the item is flagged, and users are asked if they wish it to be quarantined.

What should I look for in an antivirus program? Perhaps the most important aspects are heuristic scanning, which can identify potential viruses and worms without a definition, and frequent definition updates.

Must-know info? Personal digital assistants haven't yet become a major target for virus attacks, but the possibility grows as the devices become more popular and are connected via wireless modems to e-mail servers and the Internet.

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