BOOT CAMP 577 (20/05/09) – Privacy and Paranoia, part
So far in this short series we’ve look at possible future threats
to your privacy, the very real risk of someone pinching your computer or laptop
and the data it contains, and last week we dealt with the enemy within, namely
your own computer spying on you, so now it’s time to turn our attention to the
much broader topic of keeping your PC safe on the web.
There’s a lot of ground to cover so lets dive straight in with the
most effective means of keeping snoopers out and that’s a firewall, see also
this week’s Top Tip.
Basically there are three ways an intruder can get at the
information on your computer or storage media and devices. Far and away the
most common method, and the most easily overlooked, is through physical access
to your hardware, so lock it up, password protect your computer and encrypt
your sensitive data (see part 1).
Otherwise your computer can be remotely accessed or hacked through
its network or Internet connection, or your machine can be spiked with a Trojan
or Keylogger program that seeks out personal data and uses your Internet
connection to send it to a fraudster or data thief.
Both methods rely on a network or Internet connection that allows
data to flow freely in and out of your computer. If your computer is using
Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 then in theory it should be impossible for
anyone to break in as these operating systems come with a built-in firewall.
The basic Windows firewall works well enough and should block most external
hacking attempts but it lacks one very important feature, it cannot stop
Trojans and Keyloggers from sending data out from an infected computer.
Well, that’s not strictly true. The Firewall in XP is one-way and
only stops inbound connections, but the ones bundled with Vista and Windows 7
do provide the all-important two-way protection and can stop unauthorised
outgoing traffic, the only problem is, it’s not usually switched on by default.
For some reason Microsoft thought it would be too complicated for users to
configure, but there is a quick fix, which we’ll come to in a moment.
If you are using an earlier version of Windows you have no
outbound protection at all and the firewall in XP only does half a job so I
strongly suggest that you install a decent two-way firewall, (or security suite
with a two-way firewall) without delay.
There are a number of very good free firewalls for XP and Vista
including Comodo, Keiro (now Sunbelt), Outpost and not forgetting the venerable
Zone Alarm. You will find links to the downloads at: http://tinyurl.com/2fqoyk, however, when
you reach the firewall company’s website be careful where you click.
Understandably they would much rather you purchased the more sophisticated
paid-for versions of their products – and very good they are too – but they
don’t always make it easy to find the freebies. The links to the free downloads
can change and don’t confuse ‘free’ with ‘free trial’, nevertheless they are
there if you look for them. They all provide a good standard of protection and
if you like what you find consider upgrading to the paid-for version.
Back now to the firewalls included with Vista and Windows 7. They
offer quite a decent level of protection, or at least they would if they were
properly set up. Bizarrely that’s left up to the user, who in most cases will
not go anywhere near the well-hidden configuration menus, but there is a
solution. A small freeware application called Vista Firewall Control (http://tinyurl.com/28tgrg) manages the
settings and presents them in an easy to use form. Once installed it starts
learning what’s allowed to use your Internet connection. The first time you
open your browser or email program, for example, it asks you what you want to
do (Disable All, Enable All, Incoming Only or Outgoing Only); simply make your
choice, click Apply, your setting is stored and it won’t bother you again until
something new tries to access your computer or use your Internet connection.
A good two-way firewall is essential but don’t think that’s all
you need to protect your privacy; we’ll come back to the subject and see how
effect yours is later on in the series but next week we turn our attention to
the malware threat.
Next Week – Privacy, part 4 Part 1 2 4 5
Computer program, usually installed without the owner’s knowledge,
which records keystrokes with the intention of capturing passwords and PINs,
which will be used for fraudulent purposes
program on a PC, usually installed surreptitiously or by an email attachment
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
Improved and upgraded version of Windows Vista, due to be launched
A firewall is basically a gatekeeper, positioned between your PC
and the Internet or a network and designed to stop unauthorised connections to
your computer, and usually (but not always) control which programs on your PC
are allowed to access the Internet. There are two types; a Software firewall is
a program that runs on your PC. It starts automatically with Windows and runs
in the background. They are highly configurable and mostly very effective but
they are vulnerable to being deactivated by viruses, malware (and careless
users) and they can have an impact on performance.
Hardware firewalls are usually incorporated into external devices,
such as broadband routers and modems so they are immune to virus attack and
have no effect on the computer’s operation. However, they do not have the same
flexibility or level of protection as Software firewalls and can be difficult
to configure. Nevertheless the extra layer of protection provided by a Hardware
firewall is still worth having so if you have one, it’s worth getting to know,
but don’t expect an easy ride from the instructions…
Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top
Tips at www.pctoptips.co.uk/
© R. Maybury 2009, 2904