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How To Protect Your Internet Computer.

Jump To:
Why You Need To Protect Your Computer
Some Common Dangers
How Did these Things Get On My Computer?
How Do I Protect Myself?
How To Test Your Computer Security.
How To Prepare A Computer for Internet Use.
How To Clean Up a Polluted Internet Computer
A Final Note ....
Special Bonus: How To Identify Fake Emails


20 minutes.

That's how long it takes for harmful programs to start finding your unprotected Windows computer on the internet. And install themselves.

Please note: Most of these precautions are not needed for Apple or Linux based computers. See www.linspire.com for an fully featured, inexpensive alternative to Windows.

Why You Need To Protect Your Computer

It seems that many people still believe that they are safe from harmful programs if they don't open any email attachments.

Not True.

If you connect an unprotected Windows based computer to the internet, it's highly likely that a harmful program will be installed on it within minutes.

Your computer could be sending out thousands of email messages, taking part in electronic attacks on other computers, or sending your personal information to criminals somewhere on the internet.

Without you knowing a thing about it.

Some Common Dangers

The past year has seen a rapid increase in the amount of criminal activity that targets unsuspecting internet users. Here's just a few of the common nasties.

  • PHISHING - where people are tricked into providing their bank account details to criminals.
  • SPAMMING - where people don't know that their computer is being used to send out thousands of email messages.
  • BOTNETS - where your computer is under external control, and is used to send spam, launch attacks on other computers, etc.
  • Viruses, Worms, and Trojans - which can do a variety of things like damage your files, send them to others, distribute SPAM, or send your bank login details to criminals.
  • DIALERS - which cut your internet connection, and quickly establish another one which adds many dollars a minute to your phone bill
  • POP-UPS - which "pop up" lots of windows and advertisements, making it difficult to even use your computer.
  • And lots more.

How Did these Things Get On My Computer?

Easy. They got onto your computer because you did the normal things that everyone does. Things like:

  • Visiting websites.
  • Clicking on a popup advertisement
  • Opening an email attachment
  • Clicking a link in an email message
  • Or just by connecting your computer to the internet without an effective firewall.

How Do I Protect Myself?

The first thing is to realise that just having an anti virus program is not sufficient to stop all the harmful stuff that is trying to install itself on your computer. You also need the following items in operation.

Firewalls.

This is like an electronic guard that controls what comes in and out of your PC.

Firewalls can be either a software program that you run, or contained in the hardware that is used for internet connections. They can protect you against MANY types of internet attacks, and we consider them to be compulsory on every computer that is connected to the internet.

Service Pack 2 for Microsoft XP contains a firewall, but we recommend ZoneAlarm instead, as it provides better protection against programs trying to send data out of your computer.

Spyware Protection

Spyware sits on your computer, monitors what you are doing, and sends information back to someone. It is generally installed on your computer along with freeware or shareware programs, You give these companies approval to install it by agreeing to their terms and conditions before the program is installed.

If you feel uncomfortable about this, you can identify and optionally remove it. We recommend 2 programs, SpyBot and Lavasoft's Adaware. Like virus checkers, these programs need to be regularly updated for maximum protection.

Spybot and Adaware will allow you to identify hidden programs - and remove them if you don't want them to be there. (But be careful - some programs will stop working if you remove the programs that are linked to them. For example, if you are using the free version of Eudora don't delete the program that it uses to deliver the advertising that you agreed to receive.)

Viruses.

Most people know about anti-virus programs. However, many are not aware of the need to update them regularly. Preferably daily, or at least weekly.

If you have an antivirus program that was installed a couple of years ago and never updated, it's useless. Get a new one.

There's more information about Anti-virus programs at http://webangel.com.au/info/antivirus.htm

Microsoft Updates.

Microsoft are continually releasing security updates for their programs.

Visit http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ to get them. You should install the critical ones as soon as possible.

How To Test Your Computer Security.

You can test the effectiveness of your computer security by going to the Gibson Research site at www.grc.com. Click on the "Shields Up" logo, and scroll down the page to the "Hot Spots" section. Then click on "Shields Up".

The first thing you'll see is a request for your permission to try and access your system. These access tests are safe in our experience, and you agree to them by clicking on the "Proceed" button.

You should now be at the main "Shields Up" page, and can run a series of tests that show how well (or how poorly) your computer is protected from various internet attacks.

A comprehensive explanation of all tests is available if you scroll down the page.

Here's the ones to try first:

1. File sharing: This test checks whether the files on your computer are visible to anyone on the internet. An appropriate message will appear after the test, giving you feedback.

2. Common Ports. Probes the most common electronic connections (Ports) on your computer. Ideally, you should see a green "Stealth" result beside each one if your firewall is working properly. If you see anything else, your computer is not as secure as it could be. (For a more comprehensive test which scans the first 1056 ports on your system, select "All Service Ports")

3. Messenger Spam: Tests how your computer handles the SPAM that comes through the messenger service. There's also instructions on how to shut it off.

4. Browser Headers: find out what information your computer is giving to every site that you visit.

If the GRC tests indicate that your security needs improvement, make changes to the setup of your computer as discussed at GRC and try the tests again.

 

How To Prepare A Computer for Internet Use.

If you've just bought a new computer, an hour or so preparing it for use on the internet can save you a lot of grief.

1. Buy the latest issue of a computer magazine like APC, PC Authority, PC World, or similar that has a CD ROM on the cover. (You're looking for a disk with at least ZoneAlarm, SpyBot, and an anti-virus program on it. Preferably Mozilla Firefox as well)

Getting these programs in a magazine will save a lot of time downloading, and eliminate the risk of your computer being infected with something while you are doing the download. There'll also be help files to read in case you get stuck.

2. If you are not already protected by a firewall/router, install the "ZoneAlarm" software firewall. The default settings should be fine. (If you have Windows XP SP2, we'd suggest turning its firewall off and using ZoneAlarm instead. )

 

3. Install an anti-virus program if there's not one already on the computer. See http://webangel.com.au/info/antivirus.htm for some suggestions. Some of these like AVG or Avast will probably be on your magazine disk.

4. Install Spybot and/or Adaware.

5. Consider using alternative programs like Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird for web browsing and email. Criminals target the security faults in Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook, and many authorities regard Internet Explorer as being unsafe to use.

6. Connect your computer to the internet, and follow the instructions in the Test section (above) to assess how well your computer is protected.

How To clean Up a Polluted Internet Computer

If you've been using a computer on the internet without the protection discussed above, it probably resembles an electronic toxic waste dump.

Here's how to clean it up.

1. Do the "Shield Up" security checks at www.grc.com.

2. Install the programs as discussed above.

3. Connect to each of the program update sites and download any updates. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more, depending on the program and the speed of your connection to the internet.

3. Do a complete Virus and Spyware scan using your newly updated programs. Remove suspect entries, as per the instructions provided in each of the applications.

(These scans can take an hour or more to complete, depending on the speed of your computer and the amount of data that has to be checked. So - plan something else to do while the scans are running.)

4. Run through the tests at www.grc.com again to check that your work has been successful.

A Final Note ....

Automated protection programs can only go so far to protect you against internet problems.

You have to be continually vigilant, and aware of your actions.

A firewall's protection is useless if you mindlessly click on "YES" when you are asked if you want to allow "Object 800032 permission to access the internet and act as a server"

If you don't recognise a request for access, the safest course is to deny it. By clicking "YES" to these requests, you may as well not have any protection at all.

You'll probably keep getting junk installed on your computer if you click on links in unsolicited email messages too.

The writers know how to create a letter which can get you curious enough, or mad enough to click on a link that can install something harmful.

Computer security is a combination of your own common sense, and technical aids.

Don't just rely on the technical stuff. And Don't EVER click on an unsolicited email link and put in your banking details. Your identity (and your money) could be stolen faster than you thought possible.

Special bonus: How To Identify Fake Emails

Here are a series of actual harmful emails, so that you can get a feel for the types of messages to look out for.

http://webangel.com.au/fakes/index.htm

(clicking on the links is safe - all harmful content has been removed)

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