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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 information.

What are viruses and spyware?

Viruses are programs that can reproduce and spread themselves to other systems. Worms, trojans and other malicious programs are typically referred to as viruses, though by strict technical definition they may not be actual viruses. The damage done by these programs can vary, from simply sending copies of itself out through your email to destroying data or crashing your computer. Viruses are still most commonly spread through email attachments, but can also replicate quickly and easily on high speed networks, especially if your computer does not have all of its recent operating system patches.

Spyware is software that covertly gathers user information through an Internet connection without their knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. Spyware applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet; however, it should be noted that the majority of shareware and freeware applications do not come with spyware. Once installed, the spyware monitors your activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background. Spyware can also gather information about email addresses or even passwords and credit card numbers. The most common symptoms of a spyware infected computer are increasing pop up windows and a general slowing down of the computer as the tracking programs run in the background and transmit data over the Internet.

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: http://cuit.columbia.edu/symantec.
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?

Although pop up windows are generally a form of online advertising, if you are receiving them 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 Version 11 remove and prevent spyware. You can also switch to a browser other than Internet Explorer - such as Firefox - since these are less targeted for spyware and pop ups than IE. 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 Symantec Endpoint completed a scan of your computer? If the message appears within the Symantec 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?

On a Windows PC: find the icon for the file or folder (on your desktop, in My Documents, etc.) and right-click on it. A menu will appear, select the "Scan for Viruses".

On a Macintosh: find the icon for the file or folder, Control-click on it and select "Norton AntiVirus -> Scan filename" (where filename is the name of the file or folder you'd like to scan.

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 12/16/2011

 
 
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