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Re: Help! Do I have to be afraid of PDF files?

Feb 15, 2002 11:41 AM
by leonmaurer

Hi John,

I know what your problem is with fear of downloading files, but maybe this 
will ease your mind a bit.

Not knowing whether a file using a .pdf extension is really a PDF text file 
and not a disguised virus, the best suggestions I have is that... 

1. If you know and trust the person who sent the file, there's no chance of 
getting a virus -- (since it would have already effected their machine and 
they wouldn't be able to send it to you, anyway). You can download such 
files and open them with no worries. So, anything from us folks is kosher.

2. If you expect to download files from people you don't know, get an anti 
virus program that is automatically updated each month, such as Norton or 
Virex (I use Virex 5.9 and download a free update from the web each month), 
or (if you are brave, and can afford it:-) 

3. Back up or "mirror" everything on your hard drive including the startup 
System and all your applications (best on a matching external hard drive) -- 
and then download any file you want to read or see. 
If its a virus (which I find very rare, since I have downloaded hundreds 
of files from the Internet and from correspondents over the past ten years 
and never got a virus) and it does destroy your files -- boot up with the 
external drive, reformat your internal drive, and restore its files. 
For your information I have a 4 gig external SCSI drive that is an exact 
copy of my 4 gig internal drive, including a full startup system and all my 
applications, utilities and personal/business files. Every time I add a new 
file, I save it to both disks (as well as on a Jaz removable 1 gig hard drive 
which I keep in a remote location). This practically guarantees no important 
files will ever get lost. I recently had a complete hard drive failure (it 
froze and wouldn't spin up) and lost everything on it, but had no trouble 
immediately getting my machine up and running from the external drive -- 
until I could replace the broken internal drive and recopy all the files back 
to it. 

Also, you should know that most viruses (almost 90%) are designed for Windows 
PC, and do not effect Macintosh machines. So, getting a virus from a file 
downloaded from a reputable site on the Internet, or from people on the 
forums, the majority of whom use PC's would be relatively safe -- even 
without a virus protection program -- (which I still recommend if you expect 
to ever download files from people you don't know). 

Hope this helps.


In a message dated 02/14/02 4:49:19 PM, writes:

>Dear Lenny, Reed, Eldon, Jerome (and Joe):
>I sent this to you folks (and a blind carbon copy to Joe, a college
>student, the young man who helps me and Bonnie with the computer)
>because all of you are quite knowledgeable about this computer stuff.
>This is what I need help with: We are very afraid to download anything
>into our computer; and for this reason I don't get to read Jerome's
>magazine, and so many other things, since there are more and more things
>to read now-a-days that are presented this PDF way now.
>The following two short excerpts are part of an e-mail exchange between
>me and someone that I met on the computer recently about this PDF issue.
>Is he correct? Can we finally stop being afraid to download PDF files
>into our computer, from both those found on web sites and in e-mails?
>Any help and input by you folks would be greatly appreciated.
>I said this to him:
>"... I'm a complete technology-shy novice, one who is also a scardy-cat,
>one who is absolutely lost and breaks out in cold sweats if anything
>goes wrong, and I don't know how to do anything except the few things I
>do. I also never click on PDF files, which, besides being in e-mails,
>are on so many web sites now in order to read a lot of documents. I
>treat them in this same way as ALL file attachments in e-mails, since
>they have to be "downloaded" into my computer. Am I thinking correctly
>with my being afraid of these "PDF" files entering my computer also?
>..." --John
>His answer was this:
>"... No, a virus can not enter your operational system from a PDF (adobe
>reader) because (1.) it is a typewriter/text format, that is, there is
>no machine langage and no link to DOS! PDF can change lotus text into
>word perfect text or MS word text. It can only change one text format
>into another. This means all the PDF program can do is read text and not
>"computer code"! A virus is made of "machine langage" and not typwriter
>text. A virus can enter by email attachment, floppy disk, or CD. (2.)
>PDF does not have the ability to trasmit a virus to your system. It is
>not the right format for virus. ..."
>Finally, since we are so novice and afraid, are there any things that
>Bonnie and I should stay away from downloading into our IMac computer,
>other than file attachments, which we so far never open, but just trash,
>since we don't even want to be involved with virus-removing programs, as
>even that seems very risky, and too technical for us. I know of people
>who got infected even with their virus-protection programs. I guess the
>technically-skilled bad guys keep finding new ways to do damage, which
>kind of keeps the virus programs a step behind at all times.
>Thanks in advance for any advice and help any of you offer us.
>Most sincerely,
>John DeSantis

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