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 â€” 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.
â€œIllegally downloading creative works is not only illegal but there are risks associated with it,â€ said Diane Smiroldo, BSAâ€™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.
â€œThose are fairly significant statistics,â€ she said.
Computer viruses can do any number of things, including physically harming, deleting information from or actually taking over your computer.
â€œAll of those things occur in different scopes,â€ said Richard Boes, Fresno Stateâ€™s director of Information Technology Services. â€œSome of them happen subtly. Some of them are blatant.â€
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.
â€œThatâ€™s when it gets more serious,â€ said Rafael Villegas, Fresno Stateâ€™s lead information security expert. â€œThey use that information to obviously impersonate you.â€
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.
â€œThese spam filters that we put in place â€¦ dramatically reduced spam about a year ago,â€ Boes said. â€œSpam is a big source of viruses.â€
Students can also get viruses and spyware on their computers by visiting certain Web sites.
â€œThere are sites that are legal that are less reputable that also have viruses,â€ Boes said. â€œMany of them have not viruses â€¦ [but] spyware associated with them, so there are a lot of sites where you can go and get spyware.â€
Senior Fresno State student Curtis Bruno received spyware on his computer that he canâ€™t seem to get rid of.
â€œThereâ€™s tons of pop-ups that come up because of spyware,â€ Bruno said. â€œIâ€™ve tried a spy sweeper before and it doesnâ€™t work.â€
Because of his problems with spyware, Bruno, a biology major, is careful when downloading music.
â€œI trust a company like iTunes more than a [peer to peer] program like Limewire, where anyone can put anything on there,â€ Bruno said.
BSA is attempting to further educate students like Bruno on the dangers of illegal downloading through their Web site, B4UCopy.com, 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.
â€œWhat we hope [students] learn is that thereâ€™s a way to conduct yourself Online,â€ Smiroldo said. â€œThereâ€™s a way to conduct yourself safely to protect your information and to protect your privacy.â€
Installing anti-virus software and update it frequently is important.
â€œThere are new viruses and spyware coming out every day,â€ Boes said. â€œYou have to have [anti-virus software] updated on a very regular basis in order to assure that you have adequate protections.â€
Boes believes students can also protect themselves by using common sense.
â€œGenerally if you question whether you should go somewhere or click on something,” he said. “The answer is probably you should not.”