Ranting and raving and carrying on

Just a few random thoughts about random stuff. Warning - may contain profanity

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Location: Toronto-ish, Ontario, Canada

Just a guy... Bit of a geek, but who isn't these days?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Three steps to Computer Safety

Ok, if you're reading this, you have a computer, or at least have access to one. Either that, or you have some very spooky powers, in which case ignore what I'm about to say, Neo.

Still with me? Cool. Now, by now you've probably heard of this thing called the "Internet". It's a very cool place, where you can see what a lot of other people have to say, and interact with them in various ways. However, since most of you are the electronic equivalent of a small child, let me spell it out for you - strangers are bad. If you get an e-mail from someone you don't know, don't blindly launch the attachment - even if it claims to be from your bank, or your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or PayPal, or even from Bill-freaking-Gates. Even if it is from someone you know, but you weren't expecting it, check back with them to make sure they really sent it. E-mail viruses are very good at covering their tracks.

The second thing to do is get yourself a firewall. Actually, if you have "high speed" Internet, get two - a hardware "router" box, and a software firewall. The hardware box will keep most of the bad people out, and the software one gives not only a second line of defence, but also a warning if something that got in is trying to get back out again. Antivirus programs are good, and I also strongly recommend you get one of those as well, but they have two problems. First, they can only recognize viruses they already know about - anything new sails right past them. Second, you must keep paying the AV company on a yearly basis to keep getting the updates, otherwise your AV program quickly (within a few weeks) becomes hopelessly outdated. There are over 80,000 known viruses out there, and more every day. While you're at it, get a good Spyware detection program and keep that updated and running regularly, too. I've seen computers that didn't have a virus, but were useless because of all the spyware running on them - the different programs were interfering with each other, and with the operating system. Okay, so this is probably three or four steps in one. Deal with it.

While I think of it... Something else about the router box. You probably don't need wireless, unless you have a laptop. So either (1) get a router without wireless (if that's even possible any more), (2) turn off the wireless capability, or (3) figure out how to protect it. If your wireless connection is wide open, anyone nearby can use it. This could simply inconvenience you (by making your connection slower), cost you money (if your ISP charges by the amount you use), or even open you up to criminal prosecution (if someone accesses child porn (for example) from your wireless access point, you could be held criminally liable).

The third and final "big thing" to do is to install patches regularly. The Microsoft Windows Update site (for those of you running Windows, which is about 94% at last count) should be visited monthly - or better yet, you can tell your computer to notify you automatically when updates are available. Just make sure you install them. Think of it as "preventative maintenance" - like changing the oil in your car regularly. It takes less time (which is good, since you'll do it a lot more often). Also remember to check for updates to any programs you use (games, word processors, the firewall program from above, etc.), including your web browser if you are using anything other than Internet Explorer.

Which reminds me - not to slag Microsoft, but I recommend you do not use Internet Explorer or Outlook Express for Web or E-mail respectively. Yes, I know they are free. They have also been two of the biggest sources of viruses and security holes in the past. I recommend the Mozilla Firefox web browser (I'm using it right now). I believe the Mozilla project also has an e-mail program, or there's others (such as Eudora) out there that are free for personal use.

These are pretty fundamental things that I consider to be essential if you want to survive on the Internet. Otherwise, your computer will be infested with "bots" and used for attacking other computers, or somebody will steal your personal information, or your system may even be damaged to the point where you lose all your data (think of your saved games and documents) and have to reinstall everything from scratch.