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Past newsletters may be viewed at http://editor.actrix.gen.nz/
This newsletter has been produced to help you get the most out of the Internet and to keep you, as an Actrix customer, informed of developments and services within the company.
Questions and comments about the newsletter can be emailed to editor@actrix.co.nz
Other inquiries should be emailed to support@actrix.co.nz

Viruses!

These days we seem to be hearing more and more about viruses. Often the virus warnings we come across are hoaxes but every Internet User is still at risk from viruses which are very real and which can be very destructive. Just what are viruses? What can they do? Why are they becoming more prevalent? How do you distinguish hoax warnings from real warnings, and what can you do to protect yourself from these nefarious net-threats?

Unlike bugs which are more like accidental programming errors, viruses are bits of software deliberately written to interfere with the way your computer works. They are, without exception, maliciously created to do you harm without you realising it. They are given the medical term "viruses" because they are designed to spread systematically from one file to another on your computer as they replicate themselves, much like organic viruses do. They can even mutate like organic viruses making them harder to treat. Like organic viruses, computer viruses will usually make you suffer. The sickening things they can do include erasing your hard drive, deleting or corrupting important program files, or just generally making a mess of your computer.

On behalf of myself, Norrie, and everyone at Actrix, I'd like to wish all our customers the very best for the festive season. May the new year be one of prosperity and happiness! - Rob Zorn

 


Norrie catching some rays

Some viruses are called benign. These types aren't designed to do real damage to your computer but they are still annoying. I remember having the "Stoned" virus on an old 286 years ago. It would lock up the screen for a few seconds and inform me that my diskette was "stoned." Then it would go away, only to pop up randomly a few weeks later to do the same thing.

A malignant virus is one that attempts to inflict malicious damage to your computer, ranging from corrupting your directory information so that some programs won't be able to find some files, to erasing your entire hard drive.

In the past, viruses needed human intervention to spread - users would accidentally copy a virus-infected file from a friend's floppy disk onto their computer. This limited the potential for propagation and virus outbreaks were generally pretty easy to contain as a result. Nowadays, however, we have the Internet, which connects millions of computers around the globe. Infected files can be downloaded from Web sites, posted to newsgroups, passed on using "buddy" programs like ICQ, and, of course, transmitted via email. In fact, a favourite trick of virus writers is to get their virus to attach itself to every email you send. Some even generate their own letters to everyone in your address book, complete with friendly text designed to get the recipient to trustingly open a zipped and lethal attachment.

It is for this reason that every internet user must take care before opening an attached email file. You can't simply assume that because the sender is known to you, the program is virus free. In some cases your friend may even be completely unaware that you have received the email.
Holiday Helpdesk Hours

During the festive season the helpdesk will no longer be open during the wee small hours. From 20 December through to 16 January the helpdesk will be open from 6:45 a.m. until 11:45 p.m.

Support Pages

While we're on the subject of support, you may be pleased to know that one of our helpdesk staff, Christine Davis, has put together and posted some extremely helpful pages. The site can be found at http://support.actrix.co.nz/ or you can click on the logo here. The page allows you to select a link according to your platform (Windows or Macintosh) and from there you can access pages that explain how to set up whichever email program you use, whichever browser you use. You can also find information on whichever connection system you use. Christine has also gathered direct download links to all sorts of internet software. You are heartily invited and encouraged to pay a visit. You never know what you might learn.

The latest example of this type of virus doing the rounds is one called W32.Mypics.Worm. This is a destructive Y2K worm virus. It comes into your system as an attachment to an email with no subject line. The body of the message reads, "Here's some pictures for you!" The e-mail message contains a "Pics4You.exe" attachment. Of course it goes without saying that such an email should be immediately and fully deleted, even if it does appear to come from a trusted friend, and the attachment should definitely not be opened. In fact, you should make it a policy never to open an attachment that looks in anyway suspicious. The cost of your curiosity could just be too high.

The best defence against viruses is to install one or more anti-virus programs on your computer, and keep them updated. These anti-virus programs should be used using it to check all incoming program and data files, including email attachments. Most anti-virus programs will now automatically scan all files (whether copied from disk or over the Internet). You can find several highly regarded anti-virus programs on the Internet.
Anti-Virus Software isn't usually free, but trial versions can almost always be downloaded without charge.

Windows:
McAfee VirusScan - http://www.mcafee.com
Norton AntiVirus - http://www.symantec.com/nav/index.html
PC-cillin - http://www.antivirus.com/pc-cillin/default.htm
Antiviral Toolkit Pro - http://www.centralcommand.com

Macintosh:
Norton Anti-Virus for Mac - http://www.symantec.com/nav/nav_mac/

Free Anti-Virus Software

Microsoft Corporation together with a number of anti-virus product vendors now offer customers access to free, fully functional 90-day trial copies of a number of anti-virus programs. Their motivation is to stem the potential damage caused by viruses designed to take advantage of the potential chaos caused by the arrival of the year 2000. The free downloads will be available until December 31 1999 from http://www.microsoft.com/y2k/antivirus/AntiVirus.htm

Hoax Virus Warnings.

Just a few days ago I received, for the umpteenth time, the following:

Subject: Virus Warning
Importance: High

PASS THIS ON TO ANYONE YOU HAVE AN E-MAIL ADDRESS FOR.

"If you receive an e-mail titled - "It Takes Guts to Say Jesus" DO NOT OPEN IT. It will erase everything on your hard drive. This information was announced yesterday morning from IBM; AOL states that this is a very dangerous virus, much worse than "Melissa," and that there is NO remedy for it at this time.

Some very sick individual has succeeded in using the reformat function from Norton Utilities causing it to completely erase all documents on the hard drive. It has been designed to work with Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. It destroys Macintosh and IBM compatible computers. This is a new, very malicious virus and not many people know about it.

Pass this warning along to EVERYONE in your address book and please share it with all your online friends ASAP so that this threat may be stopped. Please practice cautionary measures and tell anyone that may have access to | your computer. Forward this warning to everyone that might access the internet."

Letters like this are obvious fakes, and they are easy to check on.

Firstly, notice that no website is cited where you may go to confirm that AOL or IBM have indeed made such an announcement. "Not many people know about it." You can be sure that if the person that wrote or sent you this email knows about it, then so do Symantec. If you ever need to know whether a certain virus exists or not, check any of the big virus protection sites. You can be sure that the latest viruses will be the first things mentioned on sites such as the following: http://www.symantec.com/

Here are some more virus information sites:

More About Viruses - http://antivirus.about.com
Virus Bulletin - http://www.virusbtn.com
McAfee Virus Information Centre - http://www.mcafee.com/centers/anti-virus/
Hoax "viruses" - http://www.icsa.net/services/consortia/anti-virus/alerthoax.shtml

Secondly, notice that the original writer of the letter above is trying to create a "virtual virus." In this case there isn't a virus that will send itself to everyone in your address book. Instead, he (or possibly she) is trying to get you to become a link in a virtual virus chain, passing on this panic-mongering nonsense to everyone in your address book. Sure, a letter like this is benign compared to one that contains an actual virus, but I still resent this clown trying to prey on my ignorance. If you receive an email like the one I quote above, check some of the sites listed above before you decide to pass it on. Visit these sites periodically to keep informed. That's the best way to stay informed about the real dangers of viruses, to remain protected and to avoid becoming an unknowing participant in someone else's prank.

Actrix + Force Technology =
Super Hardware/Internet Deals


Are you considering a computer upgrade or do you know someone who is? Actrix Networks and Force Technology have combined forces to provide a variety of hardware and internet deals that you may find enticing. If you go to the Products and Hardware section of our web site (http://www.actrix.co.nz) and click on the Force Computers logo (or click the same logo pictured here) you'll be taken to the Force computers site where a number of nifty deals are described.

For as little as $899 deposit and then less than $2 a day you can procure for yourself some pretty powerful hardware and software as well as a 24 month (15 hours per month) connection to Actrix. Once you're at the Force page where the four Force Superdeals are described (ranging from the AMD 6-2 400Mhz CPU MMX to the Intel Pentium III 500Mhz CPU MMX ) you can click on the logo again (this time at the top right of your browser-screen) to get a fuller picture of the terms, conditions and specifications. If you or a friend are interested in any of these deals, contact either Actrix or Force Technology.


Norrie's Nerd Words

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who responded to my challenge, and that includes those of you who tried to convince me to give you chocolate fish simply because you wanted them. There are those who have described me as a fishy bloke, but, unfortunately, I am not made of chocolate ones.

I was thrilled to receive so many responses and I want you to keep 'em coming. The good news is that I am sure I can keep ahead of you all and I enjoy the mental stimulation.

Congratulations Dave Harris!

The most amusing challenge this month came from Dave Harris who challenged me to tell him what was most needed when fixing his computer. He even gave me a muilti-choice:

a) a manual,
b) strong black real coffee 
c) a hat with a twirly propeller on it.

The answer was simple. Manuals are only good for propping up monitors. I don't need twirly propeller hats because I already have a cool head. That only leaves coffee, and I'm sure most of us will agree that is the most sensible answer anyway. So, Dave, though you didn't stump me, I'm feeling generous. Email me at norrie@actrix.co.nz and we can talk about how you can take delivery of your chocolate fish.

The bad news is that due to a system crash (while my intellect approaches perfection, the technology around me lags behind) I lost around half a dozen of the challenges - gone, irretrievably. So please, if I wrote to you and promised a reply but you didn't receive one, then please challenge me again. You don't scare me!

The challenge again - If you can stump me on a technical matter that has to do with servers, computers and anywhere in between, then you will receive a six-pack of chocolate fish, courtesy of Actrix (though they'll probably take it out of my wages). You do need to know the answer yourself, though. Fuller details on the challenge were published in the last letter which you can access at

http://editor.actrix.gen.nz/9911.htm.

C'mon all you scaredy-sissies! Try and out-nerd me!

Back to the good news again. I'm working on my homepage. If all goes well I should be able to point you to it next month. There you'll find my life's story, a photo-gallery, details of the challengers I've so eloquently rebuffed and other interesting things. I hope you'll all stop by and visit.

I said, Nobody can out-nerd me!

Nobody can out-nerd me!

Spam Spam Spam!

Spam always used to mean simply that funny pink meat in odd shaped tins, but today when we hear the term we think of unsolicited email. Usually spam is mass-produced, sent to a huge list of email addresses and consists of advertising for products that usually have that air of dubiousness about them - get rich schemes, unbelievable deals and products to enhance your attractiveness to the opposite sex. By definition spam is unwanted. You didn't ask to hear about the product in question, and you are the one paying for the advertising with your time online.

There are a number of ways in which spammers get your email address for their list. The most common way, besides buying lists from other spammers, is by scouring newsgroups and web sites. Small programs called robots or web bots can be sent off to crawl through the web compiling lists of addresses which are then utilised for massive bulk emails or sold to others who believe spamming is a great way to get sales. It seems these robots can even be clever enough to sneak through firewalls and cull from lists of email addresses that are supposed to be well-protected. It appears to be worth the trouble. Even if 99.9% of spam recipients fail to respond, the 0.1% of the 500,000 recipients who do respond obviously make it viable. After all, the costs to the spammer is relatively small.
Tracing spam sources, complaints procedures and spam avoidance measures are too complicated and varied to cover in detail here but if you're a little concerned about spam there are a few brief things I could mention now:
  • Be careful about where you leave your email address. If you post to newsgroups or have your email address on your web-page, a robot will find you eventually.
  • If you're downloading software or filling out web forms, be careful about which boxes you tick or leave ticked that might in fact be disguised spam invitations.
  • Never respond to spam. If the offer you've received is too good to be true, then you're probably safe to treat it like a lie.
  • Many spammers will ask you to notify them if you'd like to be removed from their mailing list. In most cases this is a trap. All you are doing is confirming to them that your email address is active. The spammer will remove you from the list all right, and simply put you on another list entitled "Guaranteed Email Addresses" that he can sell to other spammers at a higher price.

If you're really, really, really concerned about spam then you probably ought to do a little research. There are web sites dedicated to combating spam. They will provide you with information on how to track the spammer down and complain to his postmaster. Most ISPs will not tolerate spamming by their users. You can also learn about ways to mask your email address if you are posting to newsgroups. There are programs that can be downloaded for free that are designed to help cull spam from your inbox. Entering "Spam" into any search engine will provide you with more site links than you could wave a funny shaped can at.

Here is a good place to start: http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/security/spam/spam.html

Lastly, if you use Outlook Express, you can set it up to automatically delete mail that comes from a certain address. Spammers tend to change their sending addresses regularly, but if one particular source keeps bothering you, you can avoid ever having to read their emails.

Outlook Express 4

  1. Click the Tools menu and select Inbox Assistant.
  2. Click the Add menu option.
  3. In the "From Rule" field, enter the email address displayed in the "From" field in the spam email.
  4. Click the box next to "Delete" or "Delete off server".
  5. Click OK.

Outlook Express 5

  1. Click the Tools menu.
  2. Click Message Rules and select Mail from the secondary menu. This displays the New Mail Rule window.
  3. Click the New button.
  4. In the first window, click the box next to the "Where the From line contains people" option.
  5. In the second window, scroll down and click the "Delete it from server" box.
  6. In the third window, click the words "contains people." In the dialog box that appears, enter the email address displayed in the "From" field in the spam. Click the Add button, then click OK.
  7. Click OK in the New Mail Rule window.
Useful Sites
Each month I do my best to bring a few useful sites to your attention. This month I thought it would be appropriate to start with http://home.nzcity.co.nz/. This is an excellent site for all New Zealanders providing links to up-to-date weather information for your town, the latest lotto numbers, tv guides for all channels, local and overseas news, horoscopes, and the list goes on.
Appropriately, at this time of year, they also provide a link to a neat little site called xmas.co.nz (http://www.xmas.co.nz) where you can do some last minute shopping under a variety of categories including kids and toys. There are Christmas recipe pages, downloadable Christmas carols (with lyrics), card sending facilities, games and puzzles for the kids and links to other Christmas sites around the world. They'll play you carols while you visit and they'll even tell you how many sleeps, hours or minutes there are until Christmas! It's an impressive little site indeed!
Thanks to Benjamin Reader who brought this interesting site to my attention. I agreed it was worth a plug. Wordarchive is a New Zealand based venture that collects articles by all types of writers, houses them on a website, and pays the authors for them from funds generated by advertising banners. It seems to me to be an excellent way to encourage people with something to say. All articles are freely accessible to the public. Why not pay it a quick visit? Maybe you may even have something to contribute yourself. The URL is http://www.wordarchive.com or you can click on the image included here.
Lastly for this section, it was during conversation with a customer at the helpdesk late one evening that I was informed about the following URL: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html. This is the address of NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. By setting this address as the homepage for your browser you can be shown a new and mind-blowingly beautiful picture of the cosmos daily each time you launch Explorer or Netscape.

What Are Your Favourite Sites?

It has been great to get newsletter feedback from customers and I would like to encourage more. If you have favourite sites that you visit regularly and that you think might be of interest to others in the Actrix community, then please send the links to me by all means. I would be more than happy to visit and review them. Feedback of any sort is always welcome too.
YEAR 2000 CHANGEOVER - SPECIAL MICROSOFT HELPDESK HOURS

In addition to the Actrix Helpdesk being open on New Year's Eve:

To help you manage the transition to the Year 2000, Microsoft will have available staff at work and on standby during the New Year changeover to provide free telephone-based technical support services on Year 2000 issues.

All Microsoft Year 2000 related calls are free of charge.

December 31, 1999 - Normal Business Hours (9:00am through 5:00pm)
December 31, 1999 - 9:00pm through to 5.00pm on January 1, 2000.
January 2, 2000 through January 4, 2000 - 9.00am to 5.00pm
January 5, 2000 - Normal customer support services will resume

YEAR 2000 Contact Numbers?

Microsoft New Zealand customers needing help with Year 2000 issues should call:

0800 673 892 (0800 MSFT Y2K) or
0508 673 892 (0508 MSFT Y2K)

These telephone numbers will be available in addition to the normal Customer
Service and Support Hotline: 09 357 5575. The Year 2000 Service Desk can
also be contacted via email: year2000@microsoft.co.nz.

Other Resources

Microsoft's Year 2000 Resource Centre is available online at http://www.microsoft.co.nz/year2000.