how to avoid viruses and worms the geek way…

In the last several years email worms and viruses have taken the forefront in security concerns for PC users. I’ve never had to worry about it. No, it’s not because I have a Mac, and no, it’s not because I use Unix. It’s a lot simpler than that.

Let’s set the wayback® machine to the mid 90’s. At that time, there were those annoying chain letters that would warn of heinous viruses that were transmitted by merely reading one’s mail. Now, anyone computer savvy back then knew that this was impossible. Even if someone embedded malicious code into a mail message, the mail readers at the time would simply ignore them, because that code was nonsense to them. How things have changed. Various client providers have endowed their software with new “features” that allow their clients to, you guessed it, execute arbitrary programs embedded in email messages. And soon, all of those hoax email scares became reality. Time after time, huge corporate email systems and even public servers were brought down under the weight of the added traffic and other nefarious activities perpetrated by the malicious email messages or attachments.

In all of this, I’ve never broken a sweat. The primary defense is, of course, common sense. I never open attachments that I have not actively requested. In fact, I often ignored attachments I should have paid attention to :). Anyway, to make things even safer, I’ve almost always used a mail client that is text-only. I’m talking about pine. If you don’t know what pine is, it’s a command-line (think DOS) mail reader. “How archaic,” you may think. But pine is still actively developed, has a rich set of features, and most of all, is not succeptible to the myriad of worms and viruses that plague graphical mail clients. In fact, in pine, I often see the source code or other mechanisms by which crafty spammers obtain info about unsuspecting recipients, but rest assured that pine isn’t going to do something stupid like downloading images that tell the sender that I got the message, validating my email address.

I’m not advocating that anyone switch to pine, I’m just trying to feel better about using a command-line email reader 😉