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Student FAQs

Viruses 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 page 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?

Tutorials on installing and using the Columbia University Licensed version of Symantec Endpoint can be found at:
Be sure to completely remove any other 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.

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 12 to 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. Please contact the CUMC IT Service Desk (extension 5-Help) with any questions or if you are not able to update the virus definitions.

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 Protection 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 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 tell if my computer has been scanned for viruses recently?

Your security software should be running regular scans of your computer's hard drive. The computer must be powered on for the scan to run, but you can work in other programs while the system is being scanned. If using Symantec, you will see a window on the computer screen while it is scanning, and can minimize the window or open other programs over it while it is running.

To see if your system has been scanned recently, select "Scan for threats" from the list on the left hand pane of the Symantec Endpoint Protection window, then look in the bottom half of the window for Scans and the Last Scan status. See information on configuring Symantec on Windows for help in scheduling regular scans.

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Last updated 7/07/2016