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Faculty and Staff FAQs

Virus and Spyware

What can I do to protect my computer from viruses and spyware?

  1. Make sure your computer is running antivirus and antispyware programs that regularly get updates about new malicious programs and regularly scan your computer's hard drive for infected files. Columbia has a site license for Symantec Endpoint Protection (SEP), allowing Columbia Students, Faculty and Staff to install the program on any of their work and personal computers for free. Once you are no longer affiliated with Columbia, you must remove the program.
  2. Make sure your computer is getting its operating system updates: Windows Updates and Apple Software Updates
  3. Be suspicious! Do not open email attachments without first scanning them for viruses, and research any programs (especially free ones) before installing them.

Please also review our Safe Computing pages for more detailed help.

What are viruses and spyware?

See the Viruses and Spyware page in the Safe Computing section of the website for information.

How can I install and use Symantec Endpoint for antivirus protection?

Tutorials on installing and using the Columbia University Licensed version of Symantec Endpoint can be found at:
Be sure to completely remove any other versions of antivirus programs prior to installing Columbia's version or your computer may become unstable!
It is very important that you follow the installation instructions closely when installing Symantec.

If you are using a department owned computer and/or do not have an administrative login, installation and some options for configuring Symantec will not be available. See below for information on scans, updates and making sure that Symantec is protecting your computer if it connects to a CUMC domain, or is managed by CUMC IT or other technicians.

Why am I getting a lot of pop up windows on my computer?

Pop up windows while you're using a web browser are often a form of advertising, but can also be malware trying to infect your computer. Pop ups from your computer generally prompt to confirm that a program or app is installing as intended or making a wanted configuration change. Endpoint protection software, such as Symantec, will also show a message if it finds malware or is having an issue updating itself with information about the more recent viruses and malware.

Be smart when dealing with pop up messages:
  • Before clicking anything, read the message to see if you can tell what program caused the pop up message and what it is asking.
    • Be familiar enough with your security programs to know what their message windows look like. Symantec is a common program used at CUMC, while Windows also has a built in protection called Windows Defender. Open the security program from your list of apps and look at its help files or instructions to become familiar with using it.
  • If a pop up appears while you're installing a new program or making a change on the computer, it should reference the name of the program or the installation file you're using.
  • If it appears while you're not doing something on the computer that is related to an installation or a configuration change (i.e. simply browsing the Internet), it is more likely malware trying to install itself. Hit the escape (Esc) key on your keyboard to exit the pop up without clicking anything, or force close the web browser/program if possible.
If you are receiving pop ups more frequently than usual it could be due to spyware. Though the term spyware encompasses many kinds of malicious programs, the most common symptom experienced is that your computer starts getting more and more pop up windows, sometimes when your web browser isn't even in use.

CUMC IT recommends installing Symantec Endpoint Protection to remove and prevent spyware. Windows' default security program called Windows Defender also works well. If you are only getting pop up windows when using your web browser, make sure you have the latest version of the browser and are using its pop up blocker (usually found in the browser's Tools menu).

Why do I constantly get messages from my computer to download new updates?

Your computer may need to receive updates of the most recent virus and malware definitions, so that its security software has current information on how to prevent and fix problems. Since new malicious programs are always being released, your security program must download updates to these definitions regularly. Please contact the CUMC IT Service Desk (extension 5-Help) if you are not sure how to update the virus definitions.

IMPORTANT: Be sure that any messages you see does not come from a potentially malicious source before clicking on any links; you must know what security software your computer runs and verify that the message originates from your computer's appropriate security program(s). Look for the name of your known security program (Symantec is installed on most department owned computers) on the heading or upper left of the message window, and do not trust messages with misspellings, vague or other odd instructions. Contact IT staff or call us at 5-Help while you are viewing the messages if you need assistance.

Why can't I access or change some of my Symantec security program settings?

Computers that are managed by IT staff, are connected to the CUMC IT MC domain, or limited via "rights" or credentials assigned to your computer username and login are restricted to ensure that protective settings are not changed, leaving the computer vulnerable to attack and infection. Since these settings are often targeted by the virus or malware program itself it is best to use a restricted (non-administrative) account when logged into a computer for general use.

Managed computers often will receive updates to their security program via a "push" from the domain. Once updates have been reviewed to be sure that they will not interfere with any enterprise or special software programs that are used by faculty, staff and students.

What should I do if I get a message that my computer has a virus?

First, and most importantly, you should pay attention to the window that is displaying the message. Is it a pop up window that appeared while you were browsing web sites, or an email message? Or did it appear after your security program such as Windows Defender or Symantec Endpoint completed a scan of your computer? If the message appears within the security program's window, it should further instruct you on how to delete or quarantine the virus. If the message came via a pop up window or email, chances are it is a form of spyware or spam message and should be closed or deleted. Please contact the CUMC IT Service Desk with specific information if you receive one of these messages so we can be sure your computer hasn't been infected.

How can I scan a specific file on my computer?

Most computers and security programs allow you to scan specific files by right-clicking (control-click for Mac) on the file itself, then selecting "Scan for Viruses" or "Scan with Windows Defender". For detailed steps please look at help files in your anti-virus or installed security program.

Most scans of individual files will not take more than a minute, though it depends on the size of the file. When the scan is finished, the window will read "Completed". If a virus was found, it will be listed in the bottom half of the scan window.

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Last updated 7/06/2018