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What is real Steampunk?

So, you think you’re Steapunk, huh? I’m here to tell you that unless you’ve watched “BBC Why the Industrial Revolution Happened Here” you don’t know it. Painted gears and a pair of goggles? Not yet, brother/sister/ Steam Punk is more than just a look, it’s a look based on the science fiction as would be perceived in the day. Just as we take electricity and micro-computers for granted–because we know them, real Steampunk is actually based on the limitations of the knowledge of the day. Not only did they not drink Tang or eat Kraft Dinner Macaroni and Cheese, but they could not conceive of it yet. Steam Punk is science fiction limited by the imagination of the Victorian/Edwardian time.

Steampunk? No!

Steampunk: is this a computer? align=

To successfully do Steam Punk, you have to mentally travel back in time and absorb what the times were like, and using that as a frame of reference, let your imagination go wild. Electricity–what is this mysterious force that makes things happen? 2000 Leagues Under The Sea–wooooooww. The Victorians spoke of electricity the way that today’s New Ager’s use the word “Quantum”. Zero understanding but it sounds way-cool. But a few understood it.

A steampunk machine? Yes!!!!

This is a a proper steampunk machine using today’s tech.

The abuse of the Gears symbol, Brass and Dark Wood. No. Just stop it. A gear sticker on your so-called gun does not make it Steampunk. Nor does the brass. You gun needs a plausible excuse to work. See Van Helsing: A gas powered cross-bow as a “machine gun”. THAT works. Your curtain-rod-on-wood with no plausible gun doesn’t. That you put welder’s googles on a top hat doesn’t make your look steampunk unless you’re posing as Aristocracy that welds. How likely is that? Not very. Possible, but find a visual explanation of how it can be. What makes Steampunk cool is not so much the fashion, as the imagination that the fashion points to.

Steampunk: science-fiction before we could imagine what we take for granted today.

Virus Prevention for Beginners

This document is intended to inform the average, non-technical user on the subject of viruses. What they are, how to avoid getting them, how to avoid being affected by them, and how to avoid transmitting them. This document specifically addresses Microsoft Windows users. Please redistribute this document’s address as widely as possible. Feel free to included it in your email signature or to link to it from your website. For a list of anti-virus software, please check here.

About viruses in general

What is a computer virus?
A virus [?] or worm [?], or trojan horse [?] (hereafter referred to as “a virus” for the sake of simplicity) is a small piece of software that is generally designed to disguise it’s true nature, to be run without the computer user’s knowledge and perform some action that a user would most likely not have authorized. It’s a form of vandalism.

What is a computer virus not?
It’s not mysterious. It’s not smart or independent, nor has it free will. It’s just a program like your favourite text editor. Viruses aren’t to be feared, most of the time they are merely a nuisance to be dealt with. On occasion, hoever they can cause irreparable damage by deleting or altering data (your documents or programs). Dealing with a virus has the same weight as keeping a bee out of one’s home- It’s a necessary task to be dealt with promptly but without undue alarm.

The Way of the Worm

When a worm is received as an email attachment, it waits for you, or for some sort of Microsoft automation to open it.

Once active, it will usually make a copy of itself, replacing a file and taking it’s name. Then, it usually looks for Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express or Office, scans the address book for some names to use for the TO and the FROM, creates an email with some sort of duplicitous subject line and body content, and mails a copy of itself to start over on someone else’s machine.

Preventing it from activating, and deleting it is all it takes to save a yourself and many other people a lot of grief.

Don’t open attachments until you know that it’s safe. Don’t allow your machine to do it for you. It is one of many simple and effective method. Virus prevention software can be your greatest tool.

How do I get viruses?
A virus is a file just like any other. It gets on your machine in exactly the same way any file gets on your machine. These days, viruses are transmitted mostly though email attachments. They can still be transmitted though floppy disks, CDs, hard drives or infected files. They can transmit themselves though your local area network as well. In exceedingly rare instances, they are placed on your machine by crackers [?] (uninvited people who access your machine though the internet).

How do they work?
Like any program, such as a game or word processor, a virus must be launched, activated, before it can do It’s thing. Double clicking on a file, or launching a file or program that contains a virus will make it run. This means that until you deliberately wake it up, or have an automatic program wake it up, it simply sits on your disk. Inactive. Most viruses these days rely on the Microsoft scripting system to wake it up for you or trick you).

As one can see, It’s not magic. It just that someone has given a little thought as to how to abuse your machine’s vulnerabilities and your trust in the software you use. Fortunately, knowing this allows us to practice the four D’s: Detect, Disinfect, Defend and Discuss.

DETECT: How do I know if my computer is infected?

It’s not always easy to know if you have been infected by some sort of virus. Here are some common tell tale signs. A good rule of thumb is this: If you feel that you might have a virus, check!

  • Your machine inexplicably slows down
  • Your machine appears to be active though you haven’t set it to task.
  • Programs that usually work well inexplicably fail to start.
  • Your machine inexplicably shuts down or re-boots.
  • You may have received an email from someone asking you check your system for viruses (an excellent practice, actually).
  • Perhaps your in-box contains a large number of emails that have been unsuccessfully sent.
  • Disk space seems to be inexplicably filling up.
  • Files are mysteriously appearing where you know they shouldn’t be.
  • Files have sizes that aren’t commensurate with their type (ie: An MP3 sound file takes less than 50 kilobytes)

The only real way to know if you have a virus on your computer is to install anti-virus software such as is listed later on in this article.

I recommend that you do however, purchase the software on CD unless you are familiar with downloading files, saving them, and installing them from your system.

DISINFECT: How can I remove viruses from my computer?

Though this segment is the shortest, it contains the most valuable piece of information that can not be over-repeated. Unless you are a well trained expert with deep knowledge of your operating system, viral algorythms and have a deep passion for rooting around the deep inner guts of your computer, the answer is simple: Get thineself a good quality anti-virus program. Isolate your computer, run your checker from It’s installation CD if possible.

What anti-virus software do you recommend?
You can easily find a list of anti-virus software vendors. I use Norton Anti-Virus on my PCs because it has an automatic definition updater and scheduler. It’s also the first I’ve tried and it works for me. I don’t promote it above another, because I haven’t tried others. I also use Virex on my Mac for the same reason. Please choose the one that best meets your needs and budget. Do make sure that the vendor updates the virus definitions on a very regular basis. An anti-virus package with out of date definitions is useless.

DEFEND: Keeping virus-free

Avoid using Microsoft products
This includes Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express, Microsoft Office or any component thereof. Avoid using documents created by any of these packages such as .doc (Microsoft Word documents) and .xls (Microsoft Excel documents), as they are notorious for containing, transmiting and activating viruses.

This may not be an option for some. The next is to ensure that your Microsoft system has no contact with the internet if possible. Keep it behind a firewall [?] (a piece of software or hardware that acts like a protective buffer between you and the internet.)

Use a good anti-virus program, and update its definitions (the list that tells the anti-virus program what to look for and how to fix it) on a daily basis.

Staying virus free also means being careful about where you go on the Internet and keeping your security settings in the medium to high range.

To be on the safe side, it is better to not download any email attachments unless you are expecting it, and have confirmed that it is indeed from the sender. Antivirus software is pretty good, but it isn’t infallible.

DISCUSS: An additional approach

The technical details have been well discussed. There’s is another very important dimension to keeping yourself virus free. People.

It is people who run and maintain the computers that interact with yours to create a network. People write viruses. People write anti-viral software. People report new viruses. Point this article or one like it to a friend. Inlcude a pointer in your email signature. Discuss it with someone who is more skilled with computers than yourself. Discuss it with someone who is less skilled.

If you’ve receieved a virus from someone, Share it gently. It may not have come from them as the FROM line is often faked. Change the subject line. (Remove any attachments!) It may not have come from them, but ask them to send a pointer this article to everyone on their email list. In other words, reverse-trace the path of the virus with knowledge. The network of machines is reflective of the network of people. Let’s use it to inform, educate and help each user gain greater immunity to computer viruses. Remember that if you stop one single virus, you may be preventing 1000 other people from getting it. Your action might have an incredible impact on the network. What if Typhoid Mary had never passed on her bug?

Keeping the net safe, one person at a time

Imagine this: A friend or business partner tells you the following story. “I had a meeting with my most important clients to propose a deal that could bring me enough money to change my life, and that of everyone in the company. Everyone worked on the proposal for weeks, every fact checked, every detail sweated. The next day, when it was time to print out our incredible piece of work, I tried to open the document. It wouldn’t open. The meeting is in 4 hours, and the document is gone. Weeks of work for the most critical proposal of our careers, and it’s been destroyed by a virus. We lost everything.

Now imagine discovering that the virus was sent from your machine.

Let your machine be the very last machine that a virus ever sees.
Eradicate and Eliminate: it’s the thing to do! We’ve mentionned the signs, steps to take and the precautions to take. We’ve mentionned discussing virus prevention with others. When you’ve received a virus (that your anti-virus software has eliminated, because your definitions are up-to-date, aren’t they?), please respond to the sender of the email informing them of it. Urge them to read this article, or one like it, and to take action. If every computer is the last one a virus sees, only a very few will ever see it. That adds up to the Internet having “a strong immune system”. The safer you keep your neighbour, the safer they can keep you. I urge you to take action. Create a standard form-response [example]. Include a call to action in your email signature. [example]

The biggest vulnerability: some eye opening realities

“Microsoft has built in the ideal virus transmission mechanism into the operating system”
-Gartner Group analyst John Pescatore

For the most part, any Microsoft system is a virus’ petri dish of choice. The latest rounds (going back to Melissa and “ILOVEYOU”) are simple little Visual Basic scripts [?]; They are written in a language that Microsoft designed to make programs “talk” to each other. Outlook, Outlook Express and Microsoft Office are all programs that use this system. The latest viruses count on this fact. This systems allows even moderately skilled children to create the virus that could take your machine down.

The biggest reason the Microsoft Windows is the greatest breeding ground for viruses is it’s ubiquity. The dominance of Microsoft systems, refered to by some as “Monoculture”, makes it worthwhile for virus writers; it gets the biggest bang for their buck. With each strength comes a penalty. At the time of writing, Symantec’s website claims to be able to detect 61055 different viruses, trojans or worms.

Microsoft primary market is the user who is typically more interested in ease-of-use and less inclined to have very in-depth knowledge of the operating system. In short: They trust Microsoft to protect them from their own lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, this trust is misplaced. Microsoft is well known for creating products that are highly vulnerable to viruses and security breaches. Remember: Microsoft’s priority is not to create excellent software, nor to even ensure that the user’s data is safe. Microsoft’s priority is to make money. Simple observation will demonstrate that over-promising “Just good enough” as “The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread” then backing off with clumsy solutions is the Microsoft way. Unfair? Perhaps, but It’s an unfortunate reality that we currently live with.

High budget Microsoft marketing has created a powerful illusion over the years that people take it for granted that “Windows is my computer”. It isn’t. Some may be surprised at discovering that there is a large choice of operating systems. It is simply a product like any other, and deserves honest evaluation and decisions in light of a simple goal: that of keeping our own and other’s data safe.

Once you’ve done reading this article, if you would like more detail, I highly recommend the following article: Computer virus prevention: a primer

More resources on the net

Sophos Virus Info. Sells anti-virus software. Has excellent research material.
http://www.sophos.com/virusinfo/

Symantec Security Response. Sames as above. Sells anti-virus software. Has equally excellent research material as well as security related materials.
http://securityresponse.symantec.com/

F-SecureInformation Center
http://www.datafellows.fi/news/vir-news/

McAfee’s Virus Info Library
http://www.mcafee.com/support/techdocs/vinfo/index.html

The AVP Virus Encyclopedia
http://www.metro.ch/avpve/

The A-Z Antivirus Page
http://antivirus.miningco.com/compute/software/antivirus/

The Hitchhikers AntiViral Resources
http://www.hitchhikers.net/av.shtml

More questions?

Virus Help Discussion List
http://www.hackfix.org/list_virushelp.html