5 steps to help avoid instant message viruses

Using an instant messaging (IM) program—such as Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger), Windows Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, or others—you and a friend can type messages to each other and see the messages almost immediately.

Because IM is so popular, virus writers can use it to spread malicious programs.

Understanding instant message viruses

Like e-mail viruses, instant message viruses are malicious programs that are designed to travel through IM.

These viruses are spread, in most cases, when a person opens an infected file that was sent in an instant message that appeared to come from a friend.

When you open one of these files, your computer can become infected with a virus. Because of the virus, your computer may slow down or stop responding, or you may not notice any change at all.

However, the virus might have installed a covert program on your computer that could damage software, hardware, or important files, and that may include spyware, which can track information entered on the computer.

A computer infected by a virus may continue to spread the infection by sending copies of the virus to everyone on your IM contact list, that is, the collection of IM names that you can store in your IM program.

5 steps to help avoid instant message viruses

As with most threats on the Internet, you can help keep yourself safe by taking basic precautions. If you know how to avoid e-mail viruses, you’ll already be familiar with many of these steps.


Be careful downloading files in IM. Never open, accept, or download a file in IM from someone you don’t know. If the file comes from someone you do know, don’t open it unless you know what the file is and you were expecting it. Contact the sender by e-mail, phone, or some other method to confirm that what they sent was not a virus.


Update your Windows software. Visit Microsoft Update to scan your computer and install any high-priority updates that are offered to you. If you have Automatic Updates enabled, the updates are delivered to you when they are released, but you have to make sure you install them.


Make sure you’re using an updated version of your IM software. Using the most up-to-date version of your IM software can better protect your computer against viruses and spyware. If you’re using MSN Messenger, upgrade to Windows Live Messenger, which will block attachments that might contain malware and allow you to scan attachments for viruses.


Use antivirus software and keep it updated. Antivirus software can help to detect and remove IM viruses from your computer, but only if you keep the antivirus software current. If you’ve purchased a subscription from an antivirus software company, your antivirus software may update itself when you’re connected to the Internet.


Use antispyware software and keep it updated. Some IM viruses may install spyware or other unwanted software on your computer. Antispyware software can help to protect your computer from spyware and remove any spyware you may already have. If you don’t have antispyware software, you can download Windows Defender. Windows Defender comes with Windows Vista. If you use Windows XP SP2, you can download Windows Defender for no charge.


Microsoft Knowledge Base Article

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