Malware defense: Lessons from Pasteur and rabies

Credit: Albert Edelfelt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Until Louis Pasteur sent rabies packing, largely, it was viral scourge of first order. These days, viruses attack our computers and inoculation will have to come from much different quarters.

Viruses have long been a scourge of mankind.  Rabies, a truly terrible virus, is among the earliest recorded infectious diseases.  Forty-four centuries ago in the ancient Sumerian city of Eshnunna there was a law requiring the owner of a rabid dog to pay a fine should it bite someone and cause that person to die.  It wasn’t until 1885 that Louis Pasteur administered the first rabies vaccine, thereby putting rabies on the fast track to exinction.

So that was beginning of the end of rabies, right?

Sadly, that’s not the case at all.  To this day rabies still kills over 50,000 people each year around the world.  In developing countries there is a very real danger that being bitten by a rabid dog will lead to death, despite the fact that rabies is curable if the vaccine is administered shortly after exposure.

This is true of other viruses, too.  Lax monitoring and reporting, inefficient vaccination programs, and spotty treatment have created a situation where viral diseases which are entirely preventable keep their fearsome grip on much of humanity.  Only the smallpox virus has been completely and totally eradicated.  And new viruses emerge on a regular basis to threaten us.

Of bites and bytes

In the same way that rabies and other viral diseases remain a threat to us, computer viruses are something that we are going to be stuck with for a very long time.  A computer virus is a type of malware which, like a viral pathogen, spreads from host to host by making copies of itself.  In the case of a computer virus the “hosts” are computers.

Anti-virus software is like a vaccine for your computer which can innoculate it from the common, known viruses floating around the Internet.  The digital Louis Pasteurs of the world are in a constant battle to protect us from the fiendish viruses created by scoundrels sitting in dark, smelly apartments.  Unfortunately, no amount of innoculation can guarantee that your computer won’t get a virus, because new ones come out on a daily basis.   But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to prevent an infection.

So how do we avoid getting bitten by a rabid cyberdog?

Get your booster shots

First and foremost, make sure your anti-virus software, operating system, email software, and web browser are up-to-date.  This can be a bit of a headache, but it’s less of a headache than having a virus wipe your hard drive clean.  Also, certain plug-ins for your browser including Adobe Acrobat and Flash can be susceptible to viruses, so those should be updated regularly, too.  A little pain now can save a lot of pain later.  Like the doctor says, “This might sting a little.”

Stay out of the dog park

Certain online places are virtual minefields and should be avoided.  Any website which offers downloads of questionable material, including pirated movies and cracked software, is a place to keep far away from.  Those pirated movies and software were put there by, well, pirates!  Didn’t your mom tell you to stay away from pirates?  If they are dealing in hacked movies and cracked software then there’s no telling what kind of nasty virus they could have incorporated in those files.

Don’t pet strange dogs

There are two types of people in the world: those who compulsively open attachments and click links in unsolicited emails, and those who don’t.  Try not to be compulsive.  If you receive an email from someone you don’t know, don’t click the links in their email.  Don’t open the attachment — even though you really, really want to.  Just like you really, really want to pet every cute little Fido, Spot, and Rex you see sitting in the back of someone’s pickup.  But it’s just not worth the risk.

The Milwaukee Protocol for your computer

Until recently there was no treatment for rabies once a person began to show symptoms of infection.  With a few very rare exceptions, it was fatal 100% of the time if someone did not receive a vaccination soon after exposure.  The Milwaukee Protocol was developed in 2004 as a treatment for unvaccinated persons who show symptoms of rabies.  The protocol significantly improves the survival of those patients.

In the same way, if your computer becomes infected with a virus, your anti-virus software or online service can attempt to remove the virus before additional damage occurs.  This last-ditch effort may or may not be successful, depending on the nature of the virus infecting your computer.  That’s why it’s best to avoid exposure to viruses to begin with.

Whether we like it or not, computer viruses are here to stay.  By using the common sense approach outlined above viruses can generally be avoided, which keeps your computer happy, healthy, and out of the hospital.  A service like Dell Tech Concierge can set up your PC to maximize the protection provided by your antivirus software.  If your computer does get infected, the specialists at Dell Tech Concierge can cure the disease and get your PC back up and running.

Cronus Dillard
Cronus Dillard is an applications engineer who escaped the Silicon Valley rat race to live in the boonies. When he's not writing about technology he can often be found feeding his pet chickens or playing hockey.
Cronus Dillard
Tags: IT Security,Technology