Aug 08, 2020

Is downloading getting you down?

In this age of technological dominance, living without a computer is virtually impossible. Yet every day, students engage in activities that could put their computers in danger — by simply downloading a song, visiting a Web site or opening an e-mail.

According to a new survey released by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), 55 percent of students who download software, music, and other digital files illegally have experienced virus and spyware problems on their computers.

“Illegally downloading creative works is not only illegal but there are risks associated with it,” said Diane Smiroldo, BSA’s vice president of public affairs.

Smiroldo said the survey also found that 20 percent of people who downloaded files illegally experienced hard disk crashes, and 18 percent lost documents and files.

“Those are fairly significant statistics,” she said.

Computer viruses can do any number of things, including physically harming, deleting information from or actually taking over your computer.

“All of those things occur in different scopes,” said Richard Boes, Fresno State’s director of Information Technology Services. “Some of them happen subtly. Some of them are blatant.”

But a problem more comman than viruses is spyware, which spies on computers to gather information. Spyware can track activity on the computer or gather information about users, like passwords and user names.

“That’s when it gets more serious,” said Rafael Villegas, Fresno State’s lead information security expert. “They use that information to obviously impersonate you.”

Besides illegal downloading, another common way students get viruses and spyware is from opening junk e-mails, also known as spam, and clicking on the links inside. Fresno State has attempted to combat this by installing spam filters on the campus e-mail system that remove up to 98 percent of viruses from attachments and e-mail.

“These spam filters that we put in place … dramatically reduced spam about a year ago,” Boes said. “Spam is a big source of viruses.”

Students can also get viruses and spyware on their computers by visiting certain Web sites.

“There are sites that are legal that are less reputable that also have viruses,” Boes said. “Many of them have not viruses … [but] spyware associated with them, so there are a lot of sites where you can go and get spyware.”

Senior Fresno State student Curtis Bruno received spyware on his computer that he can’t seem to get rid of.

“There’s tons of pop-ups that come up because of spyware,” Bruno said. “I’ve tried a spy sweeper before and it doesn’t work.”

Because of his problems with spyware, Bruno, a biology major, is careful when downloading music.

“I trust a company like iTunes more than a [peer to peer] program like Limewire, where anyone can put anything on there,” Bruno said.

BSA is attempting to further educate students like Bruno on the dangers of illegal downloading through their Web site,, which was launched this past summer. The site has resources regarding the risks of illegal downloading and how to protect yourself from viruses and spyware.

“What we hope [students] learn is that there’s a way to conduct yourself Online,” Smiroldo said. “There’s a way to conduct yourself safely to protect your information and to protect your privacy.”

Installing anti-virus software and update it frequently is important.

“There are new viruses and spyware coming out every day,” Boes said. “You have to have [anti-virus software] updated on a very regular basis in order to assure that you have adequate protections.”

Boes believes students can also protect themselves by using common sense.

“Generally if you question whether you should go somewhere or click on something,” he said. “The answer is probably you should not.”

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