Law Office Computing
My Three Rules of Safe Computing-Again!!
It was only a few months ago that I wrote a column on virus protection. Upon review, I realize that my cautions, as strong as they were, were neither clear nor strong. So, let me very clear about the danger of opening email attachments. Last week somebody in my office tried to open an attachment she thought had come from a colleague since the email sender line had her colleague's name on it. Nothing seemed to happen when she clicked on the attachment and she sent it on to me with the request that I try to open it. Fortunately, the attachment had the name of one of the forms of the KLEZ worm ("a useful tool") that I knew about and I just deleted it. Unfortunately, my colleague's attempt to open the attachment set loose the virus. We quickly shut down the machine and I ran the MacAfee virus scan package, which found the KLEZ files and deleted them from her machine. No harm seemed to have done but she was mystified that she had received the file from a trusted associate. I asked if she was expecting a file and she said "no, but when I saw Harry's name on the email I assumed it was from him." That was the first mistake because many worms, like KLEZ infect the mailbox of the victim's computer and send out mail from it with the virus attached. Usually the victim does not even have an inkling that their computer has been compromised and the virus continues to be spread by recipients unaware of the lurking danger. That is why KLEZ is one of the most common viruses around and it gives rise to RULE ONE OF SAFE COMPUTING: Never open an attachment from an unexpected source. If you get an attachment from a friend or colleague that you are not expecting just drop them a note and say "BTW-did you just send me a file called a useful tool?" If they say no just delete the file without further ado. The chance that your deletion of the file will deprive you some knowledge that will deprive you of personal fulfillment and endless wealth is very, very small. It follows that if you get an attachment with a file from an unknown source you NEVER, EVER, IN A MILLION YEARS click on that file. Years ago, I knew a lawyer who had a remarkable filing system. He just threw almost everything he got in the trashcan unless it was a bill or a notice from a court or some other obviously important document. His theory was "if it is important they will send me a copy" -as stupid as that rule was in the context of law practice, it is a stunningly brilliant rule for managing email attachments. I have yet to receive an unannounced attachment that had any real significance to my life or my practice.
Now I am not so blind to reality that I think that you will always follow my RULE ONE, but I can hope you will at least hesitate for a moment before you click the mouse. But sometimes I must expect that temptation will win you over and click you will. That is what happened in my office. And, when the click got no response my colleague just assumed it was some kind of file opening error. In reality, the KLEZ worm, in most of its manifestations, gives you absolutely no warning that it has been set free on your computer. Indeed, you may click several times wondering to yourself why nothing happens. Unfortunately, by that time it is too late and the worm has set out to take over your computer and send infected emails to all of your clients.
You, of course, will not know that anything has happened unless the failure
of the file to open tips you off to your error and causes you to run your virus
That leads to my virus protection RULE TWO OF SAFE COMPUTING which is "if you have an inkling of a doubt about the possibility that you may have just loosed a virus, then check it out immediately!" -don't send me the file and say you can't open it. Check it out with your Virus software. That leads to RULE THREE OF SAFE COMPUTING: make sure you have a high quality virus detection program installed on your computer. More importantly, make sure that you use it and constantly update it. I use the McAfee program because it actively reminds me of every update needed to catch the most recent viruses. I update several times a week because that is how often new and usually more pernicious viruses are let loose. McAfee is a nagging program but the nagging, just like your Mom, is important. "Woody, take your vitamins" has been replaced by a computer program saying telling me to update my virus protection tables. So far as I know, McAfee Online is the only program that nags you that way. That is why I use it. It takes a minute or two to update and its nagging happens every few days but I believe it is worth the time and effort. To read more about KLEZ and other virus attacks go to the following websites: http://www.mcafee.com/anti-virus/default.asp or http://www.symantec.com/avcenter
A Concluding Thought
This column should appear on your desk shortly after September 11th of 2002. The really smart people working on terrorism are predicting that one of the forthcoming terrorist attacks will be on the world's computing systems. In the United States it is very clear that our government and commercial processes have become totally dependant upon computer systems and the Internet. This is no longer an issue that allows us the luxury of academic debate. It is simply the real world in which we live. The very techniques that allows some 13 year old kid in Russia to send you the KLEZ virus over the Internet is exactly the technique that can allow much more sophisticated computer hacks to send worldwide viruses that can crash the Internet and most of the sophisticated systems that we have come to depend upon for almost every aspect of our lives. There is not much we can do as individuals to combat worldwide terrorism. One thing we CAN do is to make our own computing systems as safe as they can be. It takes only a few minutes per day to do that and, in my view, we each have an important obligation to undertake that extra effort.