Worms, Horses, Bugs and Thugs

John Geiger

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“A determined hacker is hard to stop. But those malevolent crackers would rather walk through an open door than pick a lock” writes Michael Fitzgerald of Extreme Tech.

With all of the viruses, worms, trojan horses, and other new phenomenon called by old words running rampant, how do we provide a little peace of mind for ourselves and our workplaces? Like locking our house, stopping the mail, or adding a security system to our home or automobile, there are some simple things we can do to make it less attractive or at least less obvious to be the next target of these malicious acts. Most of the following preventative measures are free or of little monetary expense and simple to implement, but can prevent immense cost.

If you have the time or inclination to read only this far, take note of the one preventative measure that probably has better payoff than all the others combined, and that is to not open e-mail attachments (especially any ending in . exe) unless you are absolutely positive they are safe. Positive in this case means more than recognizing the first name of the sender, or a familiar subject line. A telephone call e-mail to the sender (if the message is not expected), or use of other simple measures to double-check not only the authenticity, but freedom of contamination is just prudent. If you established the initial communication (say to a reputed software vender for download) you are much safer than if something comes unsolicited from the other end. It is not worth taking chances just for curiosity’s sake Next on the importance scale is to make sure you have some sort of virus protection software installed on each computer.

There are two major providers of such software, as well as several smaller. The majors (McAfee and Symantec’s Norton) and both are comparable in price, features and usability. They can be purchased at your local retailer, or even downloaded from the internet and then updated via download forever after. I have copies of both, being used on separate computers and although there are minor differences in user interface, they both are highly rated and effective. It is important to update the software frequently and each provides a recommended frequency and procedures. Most versions provide a setting that will automatically download updates as they are available and that is quite frequently. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

The two steps above are the biggies for software related gremlins, but there are the human variety as well, who take pleasure in snooping around your hard-drive, or even commandeering your PC and invisibly using it to transmit, infect, or otherwise interfere with other computers and/or the network as a whole. Two important steps will go far in protecting you. First of all make sure you have a firewall installed. There are hardware versions (built in to modem, router, or separate box) and there are software versions available. If you connect via broadband (DSL, Cable, T1, etc. ) you may be wide open to attack 24/7. Your ISP can most likely provide this as a service as well so check with them before buying anything else. Second, periodically check for updates available for both your operating system, and your browser.

Microsoft has a free service available to provide these update patches via automatic notification. One important point to note: Microsoft (maker of over 80% of all PC operating systems) will never provide software patches via e-mail, so if you see that as an offer (remember unsolicited above), it is a hoax.

John Geiger owns and operates the local affiliate of WSI Internet Consulting and Education, a Toronto based global network of consultants, developers and production centers providing turn-key internet business solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises to include web-site design, development and hosting; site maintenance and upgrades, full e-commerce solutions, on-line training and education, and other cutting-edge internet technology and solutions. For questions, comments, free consultation, or ideas for future articles contact John at (828) 328-5929 or http://www.webmasters-wsi.com


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