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First of all, what are computer viruses?

Now before you begin, you should get some facts straight about viruses. Firstly, they are not actually living creatures. They are just a program like any other, except that they copy themselves on to other programs, they 'infect' it. They cannot actually run by themselves. To 'activate' a virus, you need to run the program which was infected. To be  classified as a virus, a program needs to be able to copy itself to another program ('replicate'), by executing its code.

This is the best definition that I have found: A computer virus is a self-replicating program containing code that explicitly copies itself and that can "infect" other programs by modifying them or their environment such that a call to an infected program implies a call to a possibly evolved copy of the virus. This comes from the comp.virus FAQ , an excellent (but lengthy) piece of information about viruses.

From all of this information, you should be able to see, that you cannot get infected by a computer virus, by just reading e-mail, or opening a word document. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. There is a programming language, called WordBasic. This is used to write macros for Microsoft Word. It is also used, by some evil (and bored) people to write virii. These would be started when a document, which is already infected is opened.

I think I have a virus, what do I do?

So, you think you have a virus? Well, maybe you don't. Many people just think that they have a virus, because something is wrong. The computer is slower, you can't read floppy disks any more... These are not sure signs of infection. There could be some hardware problem (maybe your floppy drive is getting old), or it could be caused by a new software that you have installed, or even a change in the configuration files.

The first step to take to check for virus infection, is to use a reliable virus checker. However, no matter how much they tell you how good they are, I recommend using at least two of them. The more famous ones are (note that these are in ALPHABETICAL ORDER, not performance) :

Norton anti-virus

After you have installed them, run them to see if they find a virus on your computer. Be sure to turn "heuristics" off if you can, as this will greatly reduce the number of false alarms. If there is only one infection, it may be a false alarm. This simply means that the computer thinks you have a virus when in fact you don't. If the scanner tells you it can clean them, you should make a back up copy of all the infected files. You can then let the anti-virus clean the originals only (not the backups). After you have cleaned them, try running the programs, to see if they work. If they appear to be working well, then all is fine, and you can delete the backups. If however they are not working, then you should delete them, and restore your backups. You should try other scanners, to see if they can remove it.
  Scanners can usually remove some viruses that others can't. If you can't find anything that will remove it, and you have an uninfected backup, then you should re-install it. If you haven't got any backups, then I'm afraid you will have to wait a while for a new update of your anti-virus scanner, so that they will be able to remove it. During this time, you should not run the infected program under any conditions. If the program is not important, you can always delete it. If you do not know what the file is used for, do not delete it!
After you have finished your new scan, you should do another scan, with a different scanner. This should be done, to pick up the viruses that might have been missed by other scanners.

How do I prevent a virus infection?

Well the simplest solution is to always leave your computer turned off, but that might not be too useful (and then there is no point in owning a computer). Otherwise, be careful with any new things that you install on your computer, that is any floppies, and anything off the 'net.
A note on floppies, if you are just going to be reading it, it's worth putting the lock on it, to disable writing. If you read someone else's floppy on your computer, always scan it.
Another thing that you should always do, is watch anybody that uses your computer. They could bring a virus on, even if they don't mean to! Of course that is not always possible, so you should consider using a scanner that stays in memory. It checks all files before you open them, and also scans memory when you load it.

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