BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 1998

  

 

Boot Camp 037

Safe & Secure

How safe is your PC? No, we're not talking about it blowing up or anything like that, but rather what steps have you taken to restrict unauthorised access?

Could someone retrieve valuable data and private or sensitive information without your permission? How easy would it be for someone to trash your system, delete files either by accident, or deliberately?

Even if your PC is at home and used exclusively by you for writing letters, playing games or surfing the Internet, it can still be abused, vandalised or stolen.

Like most PC users you probably give computer security little thought but consider this, according to The Association of British Insurers the theft of computer hardware amounts to more than £200 million each year. That figure doesn't even begin to include the cost of replacing data, lost productivity and the thousand and one other inconveniences that will result.

We'll begin with the basics. What can you do to stop someone switching on your machine and interfering with it? If you simply want prevent the kids fiddling around when you're out, or deter casual tinkerers, then disconnect and hide the keyboard and mouse or power cable.

A few machines have keyboard locks; they're the mysterious little key switches on the front panel, which disable the keyboard, though check that you still have the keys and it has been connected. These days quite a few manufacturers do not bother to fit or enable the facility.

If your PC likely to fall prey to a more determined assault then you should protect the operating system. On some PCs and laptops it is possible to stop the PC from booting up, without entering a PIN number.

This facility is called the Boot Password, it lives in the BIOS program, that loads immediately after the machine is switched on. You will find instructions on how to engage the password in the motherboard manual.

Once a PC has loaded Windows it becomes very vulnerable indeed and Windows itself is poorly protected. You can safeguard your personal desktop preferences by enabling the Passwords option in Control Panel, but it is easily overridden, and quite frankly doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. Invoking password protection on a screensaver works quite well once Windows is running.

It's the technique favoured by a lot of computer dealers, who want discourage customers from playing with their demo machines and is quite useful if you want to quickly disable your PC whilst you're out to lunch, say. All you have to do is check the password box on the Screensaver tab on the Display settings option in Control Panel.

Some Windows programs have their own built-in password protection schemes but these can be a bit variable. Some of them will only prevent the program from opening, but unless the actual data files are encrypted it may still be possible for them to be opened or copied by other means. There's also the danger that you will loose or forget the passwords, particularly if you're using lots of different ones.

Higher levels of protection are available from inside Windows, using what are known as Policies but these require the user to enter and edit Registry files, which is inadvisable for novices.

If you want to know more there's plenty of information on the Internet, a good place to start is:

http://www.cadvision.com/Home_Pages/accounts/redicks

/security.htm

An even better alternative is to use third-party security software that does all the hard work for you and even stops Windows from opening without a password. Again there are many useful sources of information on the web. One site well worth visiting is:

http://tucows.oanet.com/security95.html

There you will find dozens of shareware and trial programs to download. Have a look at SecureWin, it offers a very high level of protection for Windows and important files moreover it is easy to set up and use.

If you are concerned about people monitoring your Internet activities then you should be aware that your PC keeps a detailed record of every site you've visited, including copies of images and text. The information is stored in a file called a cache, which in the case of Netscape is contained within the program folder.

Internet Explorer stores information in a file called Temporary Internet Cache in the Windows folder. You can manually delete the contents of both files using Windows Explorer or use the cache size limit options in the programs themselves. There are also utilities that will do it for you automatically.

The best known is Tweak UI, which part of the Microsoft PowerToys suite of system tools. It is freeware, available from the Microsoft Web site and it is included on a lot of computer magazine cover mounted CD-ROMs. Tweak UI is installed in Control Panel, on the 'Paranoia' tab you will find options to delete the Internet Explorer cache at switch-on.

It can also clear a selection of other telltale files including Run History and Document History, both of which contain details of previous activities. Be aware that even when the caches and History files are deleted it is still possible to recover deleted information but it requires a fair amount of inside knowledge. You will find Tweak UI at:

www.microsoft.com/windows/download/powertoys.exe

No amount of password protection can stop your PC revealing its secrets if it is stolen. A small industry has grown up around this particular problem, most of them involving devices that physically restrain the machine, internal and external alarms, case locks and indelible markers for hardware and key components, so they can be identified if they're subsequently recovered.

There are literally dozens of different products on the market so it is well worth talking to a security specialist who will be able to advise you on the most appropriate methods for your system. However, before you think about protecting an individual PC you should take appropriate steps to secure your property or premises against intruders and once again, wherever possible seek expert advice.

Jargon filter

BIOS

Basic Input Output System, a set of instructions that tells your PC what it is connected to, and how to communicate with devices like hard disc drive and memory chips

ENCRYPTION

A process that turns files into gobbledegook, so they cannot be read, other than by programs containing the appropriate password-protected de-cryption software

REGISTRY

A large, complicated and constantly changing file in Windows 95 containing details of how your PC is set up, and all the programs stored on the hard disc. Touch it at your peril!

TOP TIP

The Start menu is a fast and easy way to launch frequently used programs, but you can make it work even quicker, and you don't even have to take your hands from the keyboard. Right-click on the Start button and select Open.

A window appears, containing all of the Start menu icons. Insert a number (1, 2, 3 etc.) in front of the name of the applications you use most often. Click once on the icon and the name field turns blue. Wait a moment click and click on the text and a cursor appears, then click again in front of the first letter of the name and type in the number.

When you have finished close the window. Now you can launch the Start menu and a program by pressing the Windows 95 button on the keyboard, followed by the number. If you're using an older keyboard the shortcut is Ctrl + Esc, then the number.

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