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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Protect Your Genealogy by Protecting Your Computer
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 09, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

When we think about protecting our genealogy, we think in terms of preserving documents. We are concerned with acid free paper, and preservation of our photographs in special binders. What about all of the data on your computer? Have you stopped to think about the perils your genealogy database faces every day?

I have long believed that it is not "if" my computer will fail, but "when." To this end I have long advocated backing up information onto other media, such as CD-ROMs and tape backup systems designed to preserve the information stored on your computer. There is another step involved in protecting your genealogy data. This step involves protecting your computer from viruses.

Computer viruses are more than just an annoyance.

An Annoyance?

Over the last few weeks I have been inundated with e-mails that contain the SirCam virus. At first I just rolled along with it. My virus scanning software was alerting me and then allowing me to delete the offending files. In the last week and a half though I have received the SirCam file at least fifty times. This got me to wondering. While I do have a larger than normal number of e-mail addresses, I still think that the number of times I have been sent this virus is indicative of a lack of understanding when it comes to our computers.

Many of you are novices to your computer. Believe me I do understand how you feel, as I still vividly remember the first computer my husband brought home and my own trepidation. Sometimes though we use that as an excuse not to learn more about how they work. We rely on others in the family to load new programs, diagnose the troubles on our computers. After all, that is easier. I know that I liked relying on my husband. But there were times when he was at work and I couldn't wait. Eventually I was forced to learn more about my computer.

One of the things I learned was that it was up to me to protect my computer. It is unfortunate, but there are individuals who sit at their computers devising ways to break yours and mine. These are the people that program viruses and worms. We must watch out for these disruptive files.

Where to Go for Help

The best way is to get yourself one of the anti-virus programs that are available. While you may be thinking that you shouldn't have to purchase such software, let me say that you are only contributing to your own downfall. We buy locks for our doors. We buy locks for our suitcases. Think of this as a lock for your computer, at least where viruses are concerned.

The two most popular anti-virus programs are Norton's Anti Virus and McAfee's Virus Scan. Each one can be purchased online or through local retail outlets.

Once you have selected one of these programs, you must then install it. I know you are laughing, but I know people who purchase software and then don't install it. Once you have installed it, you then need to keep it up to date. For instance, McAfee has an option that allows me to log on each day and download any new updates. When fighting viruses, this is an essential element to your anti-virus system — the ability to remain up to date.

If you haven't updated your virus software recently, you may be infected. This is one of your programs that you cannot ever be a version or two behind on. It must always be up-to-date.

Get Educated, Get Safe

While these viruses are rampant, and virus scanning software will help to alert you to the latest batch of viruses. There are times when we want to know more than just be alerted that a virus has appeared in our e-mail. We want to know what we can do if we have been infected, or signs of infection, especially if you are still living on the edge by refusing to purchase a virus protection program.

I will reiterate that you should just bite the bullet and purchase the virus software. This way you should already be covered at least in being alerted and in knowing how to get rid of it. However, if you are curious about what horrible things might happen to your computer from a virus, there are Web sites to answer your questions.

First stop should be your virus software Web site. McAfee has a directory of viruses that is available to anyone. It allows you to search for the specific virus, and then tells you what it is, what it will do, how it is spread, and how to fix your computer if you have been infected. While your virus software should take care of the fixing if you have become infected, sometimes it is good to read up on a virus.

There are a number of useful sites with information on viruses.

In Conclusion

You owe this not only to your own computer but to the computers of those you correspond with. After all, once you are infected with one of these worms or viruses that spread through e-mail, it will then use the e-mail addresses in your e-mail program to send itself out. Help protect others' genealogical data by preventing the spread of viruses and worms.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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