Installing desktop anti-virus software should be one of your top priorities when creating a secure system. In these days of Internet worm viruses, a single unprotected computer that has been infected with the Nimda or I Love You virus can bring down your entire network—for days. The cost to your library, both in dollars and in terms of patron dissatisfaction, can be serious. It is important to understand the threats that exist such as viruses, worms and Trojans and to know how to protect your computers and networks from them.
A virus is a program or even just a small piece of computer code that loads itself onto your computer without your knowledge or consent, and then executes instructions that can damage your files and even delete them. Viruses can use up your computer's memory, can prevent it from booting, and will spread to other computers via infected diskettes. Nasty cousins of viruses are worms and Trojans. Worms are viruses that spread over networks and the Internet, often by hiding within email attachments or already infected network directories. They can quickly replicate by exploiting commonly used programs such as email address books. Trojans infect your computer by hiding inside otherwise innocuous programs such as games, or they can arrive via email. While they don't replicate as worms and viruses do, they can be just as destructive as viruses.
An irritating but less devastating cousin of viruses is the hoax. A hoax usually takes the form of an email that arrives form someone you know, warning you of a terrifying virus that is spreading, and then asks you to forward the email to others. While not destructive in themselves, hoaxes act like viruses and worms in that they spread rapidly and consume bandwidth.
Basic Steps to Take
- Your first line of defense is to purchase and install anti-virus software on all your computers—for both patrons and staff. Viruses can so easily be spread; all it takes is a staff member trying to help out a patron by copying his file to a diskette, who then opens that file on her staff PC to infect that PC.
- Configure the anti-virus software to clean infected files, at the very least. If a virus is rapidly spreading throughout your library, you should probably change that option to delete infected files on the staff computers for the duration of the crisis. However, on patron machines, first attempt to clean files; remember that patrons probably will not thank you for deleting their files without trying other options.
- Update the Virus Definition Lists (called DATs) immediately and regularly thereafter. The bad guys out there are always looking for new ways to cause trouble, so today's safe PC could be tomorrow's nightmare. Anti-virus software vendors regularly release updated lists of DATs. When choosing anti-virus software for your library, it is important to remember that not all vendors provide these DATs for free. Some companies charge a minimal fee to download them after your initial license period has expired.
- Update the anti-virus software immediately after installation with any service packs and patches, and keep it up to date thereafter. Some DATs do not work well with older anti-virus software; you could be inadvertently exposing your computer to risk of infection.
- Protect your computer against boot viruses by always changing the boot order in the computer's BIOS setup.
- Ensure your computers are less attractive to viruses by keeping them updated with appropriate operating system and application patches.
- Protect your networks by minimizing the number of network shares (directories on a server that have been made accessible to other computers on the network via a process called sharing) and then restricting access to only those who really need it.
- Install anti-virus software on your servers. They are just as vulnerable (in some cases more vulnerable) than computers.
Tips to a Successful Anti-Virus Installation
- Anti-virus software is a fairly powerful program, and it can easily conflict with other software installed on a computer, from Office applications to drivers to the operating system itself. Consider installing the anti-virus software on one or two machines before deploying it widely. If you have several configurations, install it on a test machine for each type. While testing, plan how you will actually install the software. If you have a small number of computers, installation from a CD, from a network drive, or downloading from the Internet are all good choices.
- If your library system is large, consider using a push server. Push technology has been around for a long time, and it requires a fair amount of setup on the server side. Nonetheless, when there are large numbers of computers to install or update, often one or two will be missed by busy network administrators. Push servers solve that problem, by sending out a small client software program that maintains contact with the push server. When the push server announces it has software (such as upgrades and DAT updates) the push client software handles the transaction on the client end. In addition, a push server can monitor the computers for signs of infection and can scan them automatically.
- Most anti-virus packages have utilities that allow PCs to automatically pull down updates from the Internet. Use this tool if you can! It is vital to realize that anti-virus software will always need updating. If you don't commit to that principle, you are opening your computers and networks to the risk of infection. Keep in mind that people who assume their computers are safe will take more risks than people who know they might not be safe and thus take every possible precaution.