Yes, someone can absolutely take control of your computer. If you suddenly find that someone has taken control of your computer over your Internet connection, you may have been infected by a Trojan horse. Infamous, rogue programs such as "Back Orifice" and "Netbus," for example, are server applications that open your computer to outside control. These programs can't automatically install themselves on your machine like a virus can, so they are designed to look like innocent pieces of software. They typically get sent to you as e-mail attachments, and if you install one on your computer, it will start running every time you boot up your system. Once the secret server has been installed, the person on the other end of the connection can do just about anything he or she wants with your computer, like erase files, run programs or steal sensitive data.
Trojan horses are one variant of email danger. Others include viruses and worms. People tend to think of all three interchangeably, but they actually do different things. (Viruses spread from computer to computer through human actions -- opening an infected file, for example. Worms, meanwhile, do their dirty work without human action, spreading via the computer system's design itself.)
Fortunately, computer users aren't powerless to stop these evil programs. Several easy steps can greatly reduce your risk of being infected with a computer virus. Taking these basic steps can help enormously:
- Keep your computer's operating system updated at all times. Enable its auto-update features and let it do its thing.
- Ensure your computer has virus scanning software installed and scheduled for frequent system scans. Make sure the software also checks for trojans, worms, key loggers and other harmful variants. If it doesn't, either find a more complete virus suite or install separate programs that look for those things. Be vigilant -- it's your best defense.
- Use a firewall to police your incoming (and outgoing) network traffic.
- Keep your browser software updated -- easiest is to just set it to auto-update. Use common sense when visiting Web sites. Be extremely cautious when downloading files. (Always scanning them first before opening them.)
- Use common sense, again, when reading your email. If someone has sent you an attached file, ask yourself some simple questions: "Do I even know this person?"; "Was I expecting this person to send me a file?"; "What type of file is it?" In a nutshell, if you've received an attachment that seems at all fishy, it probably is. Be extremely cautious with any email attachment with a ".exe" file extension (.com and .vbs as well). If you're not 100 percent expecting such a file, just delete the email and move on with your day.
- Enable the Macro Virus Protection feature that is a part of all Microsoft applications. Also, never run a macro unless you know what it does.
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