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PC Safety

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love The Net

Francis Vale

Users will complain that their computers are slowing down, so they run off and go buy a new and more powerful machine. Wrongo.  Their computer likely turned into a fly thrashing in molasses because it’s been loaded up with so much spyware, adware, worms, Trojan horses and all kinds of other nasty stuff that it’s a miracle it even boots up.

If you want to be sure your computer never gets infected or otherwise trashed, the answer is simple, never turn it on.  If that doesn’t work for you, never use the Internet.  That’s still not good enough?  Buy a Mac.  Won’t do that either, huh? OK, if PC you must, then don your armor and follow these tips. 

Anytime you venture onto the Net you will most likely be attacked.  Ever see those pop-up ads that offer free PC health checks?  They are an invitation to spyware and adware mayhem. They also can sneak software onto your PC and ‘zombie’ it--Your PC is now an unwitting relay point for downloading over the Net all kinds of nasty stuff onto other people’s computers. Aren’t you the sweet one, now.

Here are three things you absolutely must have to ensure at least some measure of safety and sanity:

1. Antivirus software: A good freeware choice is Avast Home Edition, from http://www.avast.com. Be sure to run and update the program regularly.

2. Parasite and adware removal software:  You should have at least two parasite/adware removal programs as the nasty buggers breed like crazy and no one piece of software can catch them all.  Two excellent freeware choices are Search & Destroy, available from Safer Networking at http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html The second good choice, also free, is Ad-aware Personal Edition from Lavasoft, http://www.lavasoftusa.com/products/ad-aware_se_personal.php As with the anti-virus software, be sure to run them weekly and also regularly update the programs.

3. A firewall: Windows XP comes with a firewall utility.  Make sure you turn it on.  Firewalls not only keep bad things from breaking and entering your machine, they also prevent bad things from going out if your PC has been unwittingly zombied. Also, be sure the firewall on your router is enabled, and check to see if it has any advanced features, like MAC spoofing, which will mask your computer’s physical network address from prying eyes. (Note: doing this may cause problems with your ISP if it specifically binds to your hardwired network address) And if you have a wireless router, turn on network encryption and, if the option is available, mask the SSID. This prevents your wireless router/network from promiscuously broadcasting itself to everyone in the neighborhood. And for heaven’s sake, change the password on your router from its factory setting to something only you will know.

As for MS Windows, it’s a security nightmare that’s patched as regularly as the daily tides, so be sure automatic updates are turned on. 

Now for the common sense stuff: Never, ever open an e-mail file attachment from someone you don’t know, and even then, it’s best to presume your friend or colleague’s e-mail contact directory has been hijacked by a bad guy.  If the attached file has an “exe” extension, treat it like a North Korean nuke and trash it immediately.

Phishing is another sure way to lose your credit rating, your cash, and your sanity. You get an e-mail supposedly from your bank, Paypal, eBay, etc., that directs you to a site that looks exactly like the real thing and it asks you to verify your user name and password. But it’s a counterfeit site, solely intended to empty out your bank account. A sure sign is if you see the letters “.ru” at the end of the directed link.  This rip off is from Russia, with really bad love. Whenever you get an unsolicited mail like this, use your browser and go to the trusted web page you always use to log-in and see what’s up, if anything. 

A good source of information on how to protect yourself online is the Get Safe Online project, http://www.getsafeonline.org where you will find just about everything you need to know to have a protected Internet experience, both at home and at your place of business. The site also has information about protecting yourself from mobile phone and PDA hackers, plus a slew of other things.

As for PC hygiene, absolutely get a good backup system; my personal favorite is the Mirra, from Seagate. And don’t forget to do weekly maintenance, such as checking the PC registry for corrupted entries, defragging the hard drives, and security checks.  A program I highly recommend is System Mechanic from Iolo, at http://www.iolo.com System Mechanic is a versatile program that accelerates system performance, repairs problems, cleans up clutter, defends against threats, and helps maintain reliability and speed.

So, will doing all this stuff protect you 100%?  Nope, but as I said at the beginning, you can always just leave the machine turned off…

21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com

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