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How to protect your computer from viruses

Computer users don't need to feel helpless against the onslaught of viruses such as "NewLove," according to antivirus experts.

Computer users don't need to feel helpless against the onslaught of viruses such as "NewLove."

In addition to installing antivirus software and keeping virus definitions up-to-date, there are other measures people can take to reduce the likelihood that their computers will be infected or damaged by NewLove or similar viruses, according to experts.

First, people can delete any email sent with attachments ending in the letters ".vbs," which indicates a file that's a type of Windows program called a script. Although it's possible that some companies would send legitimate VBS files, it's unlikely, said Kevin Haley, a researcher at Symantec's antivirus research center.

In general, people should avoid opening attachments with the extensions ".vbs," ".exe," ".com" and ".js," added Trend Micro antivirus researcher Tony Qin. All of these types of files contain programs that can be executed.

Second, people can disable Windows Scripting Host, the Windows feature that runs the VBS programs, Haley said. "If they don't use it in their organization, it makes sense to do that," he said.

However, shutting off the Windows Scripting Host could cause other complications, and Robert Weller, a researcher with Computer Associates' eTrust team, said it's an extreme measure.

The most effective way to eliminate the risks associated with Windows Scripting Host is to remove it completely, Haley said. He gives the following instructions for doing so:

"The windows scripting host can be uninstalled from the Control Panel. From the 'Add/Remove Programs' icon, click on the 'Windows Setup' tab. Go to 'Accessories' and double-click. From there you will find a check box for 'Windows Scripting Host.' Uncheck it."

A third measure is to disable the "preview" pane in Microsoft Outlook's email window. Using the preview feature is the same thing as opening an email, Qin said. Although it won't open an attachment, some viruses execute just from viewing the email.

Microsoft is in the process of modifying Outlook so it's less vulnerable to virus attacks, though the update isn't yet available, Qin said. The modifications Microsoft has planned would have prevented a NewLove attack, he added.

Finally, people can run online antivirus checks such as Trend Micro's free HouseCall service, which searches a computer's hard drive for malicious programs.