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Originally published Friday, February 11, 2011 at 12:00 PM

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Q&A

Fight upsetting spam with anti-virus software, firewall

Q: I had a very upsetting event this week that I think happens to a lot of people. An e-mail with a link went out to all my contacts in...

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Q: I had a very upsetting event this week that I think happens to a lot of people. An e-mail with a link went out to all my contacts in my address book. The link was to a Canadian Viagra website. The subject line said "a present for you" or "from the bottom of my heart" and it happened over a period of just a few minutes. Hotmail has an autolock when too many e-mails are sent in a day, so that helped stop it, but the results were kind of embarrassing and I wasn't sure if clicking on this link meant that a virus was being spread to other computers. I immediately changed my password and ran my anti-virus scanner (which didn't detect anything). Is there anything else I can do? Have I infected anyone who opened the link?

— Marlee Khastou, Lynnwood

A: Aside from disconnecting from the Internet, about all you can do is make sure you've got up-to-date anti-virus software and a good firewall running. The first aims to detect malicious software you might inadvertently download; the second aims to keep hackers from directly accessing your computer. Finally, don't click on links in e-mails unless you're sure where the mail came from.

The good news is that you likely did not expose your contacts to a virus. Most spam is just designed to sell products. And, hopefully, neither you nor your contacts will click on links offered in suspect e-mails!

Q: On some secure websites, I get the following message: "Do you want to view only the Web page content that was delivered securely?" Trying to shop on a website, it is irritating to have to click "Yes" every time I want to go to a new page. Is there any way to stop it, or do I want to? I'm using Internet Explorer 8.

— Joe Black, Texas

A: Generally, that happens because the designer of the secure website put elements that are not secure on the page, such as jpeg files. So the browser is alerting you that you're about to open a "mixed" page, one with secure and insecure elements.

To disable this warning in Internet Explorer go to the Tools menu and select Internet Options. Next, select the Security tab in the dialogue that opens. Then click on the Custom Level button. Scroll down until you see an entry marked "Display mixed content" and Enable it. That should take care of those prompts.

Q: When I establish an e-mail account from a free service such as Yahoo or Google, I am assigned (I assume) an ISP number. Does this number change from computer to computer? For instance, if I first sign up for the account on my laptop, and am assigned a number, does the number stay the same if I then access the account from a different computer (say, a PC at the local library)? I guess what I'm asking is, does the number designate the person or the computer?

— Michelle

A: You're probably thinking of an IP address. When you log in to the Internet, your Internet service provider assigns the computer you're using an IP address.

Your e-mail service won't care what IP address you're using. You can log in to Web-based e-mail services from any computer, just so long as you can remember your user name and password..

Q: In addition to being a Seattle Times subscriber, I am also an iPhone devotee. I've gotten a similar story from an Apple Store employee and a Verizon employee that Apple will no longer make iPhones for AT&T. Their relationship is kaput, dead, belly up. Now I've just read an article in your venerable paper that there is an iPhone 5 for AT&T in the pipeline. What say you?

— Erin Carruth

A: The iPhone is available both from Verizon ad AT&T. And, yes, there are rumors about an iPhone 5 that will be available through both service providers. The only change I'm aware of in the relationship between Apple and AT&T is that their deal is no longer exclusive.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

columnists.

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