Computing

Securing Your Personal Confuser


I know of many people whose computers are constantly giving them problems, many of which I’ve personally tried to fix. About a year or so ago, I was asked to try to “fix” a friend’s neighbor’s computer.
Securing Your Personal Confuser

Right from boot-up, it was apparent that the system was beyond any simple scan & repair. The browser had been hijacked so that it always displayed some XXX website, pop-up ads sporadically appeared on the desktop (without the browser ever being open), and system performance was extremely low. Long story short, the only sure way to fix the computer would have been a complete re-install of everything (of course, nobody likes hearing that—so, my advice is shrugged off and life continues on).

But, your PC doesn’t have to be so vulnerable. There are a few simple things that you can do to protect yourself and your computer.

Your Web Browser

One of the primary points of entry for viruses, spyware, and adware is your web browser. Unfortunately, many of these malicious programs exploit deficiencies in the world’s most popular web browser, Internet Explorer 6.

So, what’s the fix? Use a different web browser. Now-a-days, there are many that you can choose from that provide just as many great features. Here are the big name alternatives:

By far, the most popular of the three is Mozilla Firefox. One of the biggest reasons behind it’s success has been it’s security and available extensions.

However, I am interested to see how the above will fare against the next release of Internet Explorer, IE7.0.

Now Your Cooking – Install A Firewall

A good firewall can sometimes be one of your first and best lines of defense. It can protect you from incoming threats and block anything that may already be on your PC from sending information out.

Where do you start? If you are using Windows XP, you’ll be happy to know that it comes with a firewall. However, it may not be turned on. On most computers, you’ll find it by going to START>CONTROL PANEL and then clicking on Windows Firewall(or Windows Security Center). It will usually tell you whether or not it’s enabled.

If you’d like something other than the Windows Firewall, there are also an abundance of third party programs that can be used. The most popular of which is ZoneAlarm, but Norton and McAfee also make one.

Router

A good router does more than just share an internet connection. It also shields all of the computers on your network from incoming threats. In purchasing a wireless router, you may want to consider getting one that allows you to disable the broadcasting of your SSID and supports WPA encryption (Most new ones will have both features.).

Why do you want to disable the broadcasting of your SSID? Well, all other computers that want to connect to your router and share your connection to the internet, have to use this SSID.

In a way, it’s kinda like in those old movies where a gangster would walk up to a door with a little window in it and whisper some passphrase. If he got it right, the muscle-bound monster behind the door would let the gangster through. If he didn’t, the window shut and nothing got through.

In this situation, the muscle-bound monster is your router and the passphrase is the SSID.

Well, most routers are setup by default to broadcast their SSID (Service Set Identifier). Manufacturers do this so that it’s easier for consumers to setup a network at home. In a way, it’s like the muscle-bound monster behind the door is constantly yelling the passphrase 24/7 to anybody within earshot. Anybody who wants to get in, can….unless….

Unless, you’ve also got wireless encryption enabled. Wireless encryption basically comes in two flavors WEP(Wireless Encryption Protocol) and WPA (WiFi Protected Access). WPA is an improvement upon WEP. However, both serve to encode the bits and bytes flying in the air around you so that nobody can peek in on your Beany Baby auction.

So, even if somebody had your SSID, they’d still have to break the WEP/WPA encryption before they could access your network.

But, the best thing to do is disable broadcasting of your SSID AND have WEP/WPA enabled. It’s not terribly difficult to setup, and the time saved is definitely worth the peace of mind.

NOTE: Disabling the broadcasting of your SSID does not mean that nobody can figure out what it is (but, most people won’t).

Anti-Virus?

Honestly, if you can protect yourself from spyware/adware, then you have most of your bases covered. There’s more money in developing spyware than creating viruses these days, so it’s likely that you’ll see more and more spyware than viruses. However, if you absolutely have to have some kind of anti-virus(and believe me, I’m not trying to suggest it’s a bad idea), and you don’t want to spend a dime on it; use Grisoft’s AVG.

Well, I guess that it for now. Got questions? Leave a comment or email me!

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