BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2004

  

 

BOOT CAMP 325 (11/05/04)

 

UNDER ATTACK!

 

Viruses, worms, trojans, spam, spyware, adware, phone diallers, security holes, identity theft… Doom mongers would have you believe that you and your PC are under sustained attack from hackers, organised crime syndicates, deviants and scammers but if you step back for a moment and take a closer look at all of the nonsense pouring into your email inbox you can see it for what it really is, an annoyance that would disappear, almost overnight, if we all took some basic precautions.

 

They can be boiled down to just five simple steps:

 

  1. Install anti-virus and firewall software and keep it updated.
  2. Make sure your operating system is up to date.
  3. Run a browser cleaner utility once a week.
  4. Never open unexpected email attachments.
  5. Never respond to or buy from spam emails.

 

There is no excuse whatsoever for not having anti virus and firewall software on your PC and it needn’t cost you a penny. The free version of AVG (www.grisoft.com) virus scanner works as well as most paid-for programs and its signature file is updated several times a week. A firewall program will protect your PC from hackers but the one included with Windows XP currently only prevents external access to your PC. Programs like Zone Alarm (www.zonelabs.com) and Agnitum Outpost Free (http://www.agnitum.com/products/outpost/) also stop any unauthorised programs making use of your Internet connection. Once again both programs are completely free.

 

Windows has its faults but it is as safe and secure as something as complex as an operating system could reasonably be expected to be. Unfortunately Microsoft is a target, and a mighty big one at that, for those determined to seek out and exploit loopholes in features that were, in the main, originally meant to be helpful to users.

 

When potential security issues in Windows are uncovered, like the recent ‘Sasser’ virus which infects networks, patches are made available for download from the Windows Update website (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/), usually well before they have a chance to become a serious problem, though recently there’s been a disturbing trend for these loopholes to be ‘leaked’ in an effort to further undermine Microsoft. Most new PCs are set to automatically check for updates but if you have switched this feature off you should make a point of checking the update site every couple of weeks.

 

Incidentally, Apple OS and Linux are frequently touted as safe alternatives to Windows but both systems have their share of security flaws. The only reason they have escaped serious attention from virus writers – so far -- is due to their relatively small user bases, which makes it difficult for infections to spread.

 

Most of the Internet is reasonably safe but if you stray off the beaten track – visit file sharing or porn sites or download pirate software for example -- or you are unexpectedly redirected to a web site then there is a chance your computer could pick up hidden spyware, adware or a home page ‘hijacker’, which all have the potential to expose data on your PC and relay it to who knows where. 

 

If whilst surfing an official-looking dialogue box appears on your screen, asking to install an ‘add-on’ or ‘plug-in’ never click the OK box. It could be anything, from an email worm to a premium rate phone dialler that will play havoc with your phone bill, (though only if you have a dial-up Internet connection, diallers don’t affect those with broadband). The simple rule of thumb is if you didn’t ask for it, you don’t want it! Occasionally these boxes won’t go away when you click the close window icon. When that happens close your browser; if it persists press Ctrl + Alt + Delete and End Task the offending web page. As a last resort close any open programs and switch the PC off.

 

Even if you are careful where you click your mouse there’s still a chance you’ll pick up some of this rubbish so get into the habit of running a freeware cleaner utility like AdAware (www.lavasoftusa.com) or Spybot Search and Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org/) at least once a week, and make sure that they are both regularly updated. See also Tip of the Week.

 

Worms and Trojans, carried by email attachments are clogging the Internet at the moment and they’re almost always spread by carelessness. Again, it’s easy to stay safe. Never open an email attachment, even if it is from someone you know, unless you are expecting it and one hundred percent sure of its legitimacy. If you are uncertain, and you know the sender email them and ask them to confirm its validity.

 

Finally unsolicited emails or ‘spam’; the reason you get so much of it is because a very small number of people respond to them so here are a few simple pointers. Whatever they are selling it is bound to be rubbish or a con. Never click the ‘remove me’ link on a spam email, it merely confirms your email address as active and adds it to even more mailing lists. You haven’t won a prize in a lottery you didn’t go in for and no one is going to give you a share of a $3 million bank account belonging to a deceased Nigerian government official. Buying prescription medicines over the Internet is a very, very bad idea and the recent spate of ‘phishing’ emails should alert you to the fact that banks, building societies and credit card companies do not send out emails asking you to reveal your PIN number or account details. 

 

Spam filtering software is one way of keeping your inbox under control and one of the easiest and most effective is MailWasher (www.mailwasher.net). The free version lets you see the contents of your inbox, on your ISP’s server computer, it will flag up suspect messages and allow you to delete them before they get anywhere near your PC.

 

Next week – Home movies to DVD

 

JARGON FILTER

 

PHISHING

The practice of sending emails, usually purporting to come from financial institutions requesting details of bank or credit card details

 

PREMIUM RATE DIALLER

Malicious program designed to repeatedly dial a premium rate number, running up a huge phone bill for the PC owner

 

TROJAN

Hidden program on a PC that allows an external 'client' PC to access files stored on the hard disc drive when it is connected to the Internet or a network

 

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

AdAware and Spybot eradicate most homepage ‘hijacker’ programs but for persistent pests the solution is Hijack This. It is a powerful freeware utility that seeks out programs and components that attempt to tinker with your browser’s settings. It identifies both friend and foe, so use it with care and click the ‘Info’ button or do a Google search on any suspect items before you delete anything. You’ll find more information and the download at:

http://www.spywareinfo.com/~merijn/index.html

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