Is Your Computer & Network Safe?

Since 9/11, the emergency service community has been overwhelmed with the concern surrounding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) including the use of virus attacks. Viruses, however, come in many shapes and sizes and also infect computers and computer networks. That is the focus of this article.

As computers become more and more essential to successfully manage critical emergency management services, it becomes equally critical that networks are protected adequately to insure that the computer system maintains its integrity during the spread of a computer virus, a worm or a Trojan Horse.

The Internet has become a part of everyday life, even in fire stations and for that reason, it becomes even more important to know that the necessary precautions have been taken to safeguard computers and computer networks. Fire stations are notorious for the spreading of viruses from within. Since there are numbers of people who share computers and computer files, bring files from home; it is very likely that almost every fire station that is connected to the Internet (and even those not connected) have experienced a computer virus.

In an article on c|net, it was reported that email viruses doubled in 2002. It is estimated that a virus occurs 1 in every 200 emails. Virus-scanning company MessageLabs said it stopped 9.3 million viruses in 2 billion e-mails this year, which equated to one virus in every 215 e-mails.

According to c|net, Security companies are expecting a further rise in the number of e-mail viruses over the winter holidays. Antivirus company Sybari last week warned network administrators of holiday offers and greetings that may also be carrying more than holiday cheer. Joe Licari, director of product management at Sybari, said that "during the holiday season, employees need to pay close attention to the e-mail they get in their inbox."

In another c|net article, The FriendGreetings electronic greeting card has all the hallmarks of a mass-mailing computer virus. The e-mail misleads a victim into downloading an application--ostensibly to view a Web card--and then sends itself to every e-mail address in the victim's Outlook contacts file. At least a few systems administrators have complained in Usenet postings that the mass-mailing e-card was to blame for swamping their network.

On January 25, 2003, news agencies reported that an attack on the Internet occurred and that it was the most damaging attack in the past 18 months. While this attack involved a worm (a small program that quickly copies itself and sends rapid data requests in search of other server computers that manage computer networks) and no damage was done to computers or files, it did manage to disrupt automated bank teller machines in the United States and made online surfing, shopping and e-mail access difficult. "Basically what it did is flood the pipeline, and that's what we're seeing," said Bill Murray a spokesman for the U.S.-government run National Infrastructure Protection Center. It was also pointed out that the main reason that this occurred is because computer systems were not upgraded with newer browsers and virus protection software. This all could have been prevented.

At the U.S. National Infrastructure Protection Center at FBI headquarters in Washington, investigators had captured the malicious virus and were looking into its make-up.

There are many potential dangers from computer viruses that mutate, are memory-resident, polymorphic, stealth, etc. There are also worms, Trojan Horses, password sniffers, time bombs, mail bombs, remote control programs, etc. A comprehensive virus glossary is available at McAfee's website,

Today there are also security weaknesses in the browsers that access the Internet. It becomes equally important to update browsers on a regular basis to prevent those unscrupulous persons who could access your computer while on the Internet. McAfee provides a quick evaluation of your browser while on-line at

While on-line computers are also susceptible to hackers who are trying to access your personal and financial information. A personal firewall is very popular because it places a protective barrier between the Internet and the confidential and personal information stored on your PC.

Recommendations to protect your fire department and personal computer:

  • Install reputable virus protection software that detects and removes viruses.

  • Regularly update the virus protection software - new viruses are appearing daily.

  • Limit installation of computer programs without department authorization.

  • Download files only from reputable websites.

  • Exercise care when reading email. Don't download files from persons you don't know. Be careful when downloading unexpected files even from friends or acquaintances.

  • Never open an emailed file that ends with the suffix exe, bat or pif - UNLESS YOU WERE EXPECTING THE FILE.

  • Look closely before you click on any link within an email, be suspicious.

  • Never unsubscribe to what appears to be a SPAM or unsolicited bulk email, it is unlikely to unsubscribe you from the list and validates the email address which insures that you'll get more.

For c|net reviews on virus protection software, visit:,11066,0-806174-1202-0,00.html?