Top Internet Security “things to do”

Howdy one and all and a great big welcome back to this weeks fun filled adventure of The Weekly Geek.

Back in July I started on how to secure you computer (Basic Security Tips) and I have been working on Intermediate and Advanced tips ever since then, today I wanted to release a quick checklist.

Securing Your Computers, Network and Servers

Things to do:

  1. Turn on Windows Critical Updates – Schedule Auto Update.
  2. Install and configure for automatic update (hourly) a current anti-virus program (less than 1 years old).
  3. Install a Hardware firewall (router) and update it (quarterly).
  4. Install a new Software firewall (XP’s, Zone Alarm, Kerio) and update it (weekly).
  5. Configure you e-mail client (Outlook, Eudora, Pegasus) for security.
  6. Configure your browser (Internet Explorer, Opera, Netscape) for security.

  7. Install a Pop up blocker.
  8. Install and configure a Spam filter.
  9. Install update and run a current Anti-Trojan program.
  10. Constantly run a Cookie watching program.
  11. Install update and run a current anti-spyware tool or two.
  12. Properly secure your wireless network or hire someone to do it for you.
  13. Install HOST file.

Things NOT to do:

  1. Don’t pirate software, music or anything – Software, Music and Video swap sites.
  2. Don’t let your kids (grandkids) steal/pirate.
  3. Don’t use any file sharing or peer-to-peer internet networks.
  4. Do not open “strange” e-mails (My Naked Wife, Anna Kournikova, The IRS wants you, The FBI noticed you). They are infections looking to happen.
  5. Never respond to a pop up ad, not even the warnings
  6. Never respond to an unsolicited email (SPAM) not to remove or win $2 million.
  7. Don’t browse adult or questionable sites – drive by downloads are commonplace in those types of sites.
  8. Don’t install a “toolbar” unless you:
    1. Know what a tool bar is.
    2. Know exactly who made the toolbar.
    3. Know what you are going to use the toolbar for.

If you want to be an extremist about security and flaw, buy an Apple computer or laptop and do not use any Microsoft products on it.

Another option is to use Linux as your operating system and once again not use any Microsoft products.

Instead of Microsoft Office use 602 Pro, Easy Office, Open Office or Corel WordPerfect Office.

Instead of using Outlook Express for your e-mail or Outlook for your personal information manager and e-mail, you can use one provided in the above suites, or integrated with Mozilla browser or Opera browser. You can even use Eudora or Pegasus e-mail client programs. Don’t forget about web based programs like Yahoo, Hotmail or the one provided by your internet service provider.

When connecting to the internet don’t use Internet Explorer, some good alternatives I have used are Opera and Firefox there are several others out there also.

Below are some definitions of security terms that you might want to know.

A virus is a program, script or macro that is designed to destroy, modify or damage computer hardware and or software. Viruses are self replicating and commonly spread by e-mail messages, shareware sites (Napster, and KaZzA are the two worst), Instant messengers (chat room software) and pirated software. To reproduce a virus will copy itself on disks put into an infected computer (hard drives, zip drives and floppies). They also go into your e-mail and address book and send themselves to the names listed. Like the influenza some viruses are so complex they morph themselves as needed to continue their spreading. Viruses can hide on a hard drive, in memory or even the BIOS. The newest viruses can be attached to an e-mail that is sent to you and you do not need to even open it, just the act of retrieving your e-mail can activate it. This is why an up to date anti-virus program is so important.

Anti-virus programs are designed to protect a computer or group of computers (a network) from viruses. They are usually reactionary thus they do not prevent viruses, they just catch them before (hopefully) they infect you or your network. Anti-virus programs should always run in the background and always be running on your system.

Trojans (also known as a Trojan horse) are false programs or a program hidden in a “good” program that when activated (by running the “good” program) will open up “doors” (ports) on your computer to allow others (hackers) the ability to access your computer and view, change or add data. Trojans are usually designed to make your computer a Zombie.

Anti-Trojan programs are just that, programs that search for and remove and or prevent trojans. Anti-virus companies are adding more anti-trojan capabilities to their programs however, a separate anti-trojan program is recommended.

A Zombie is a computer that has been taken over to do the dirty work of another program or user. The Blaster worm made zombies of Windows 2000 and XP machines and had them “attack” Microsoft’s update web site. This type of attack is referred to as a Denial of Service (DoS) attack and is intended to block, crash or destroy another computer or network. There are good reason’s you don’t want to become a Zombie.

Malware (malicious software) refers to programs scripts and macros that are designed to do harm. Worms, viruses and trojans are all forms of malware.

Spyware is referred to as software that tracks computer users’ activities with or without the users’ full (or even partial) knowledge of their being tracked. Normally used by advertising agencies to target advertise to the end user, hackers are starting to use this method to steal identities and create targeting worms and viruses. Spyware is installed on a user’s machine when installing free programs such as free music sharing programs (KaZzA), visiting web pages such as adult oriented web pages (drive by downloads that you do not necessarily “voluntarily” accept) and through other downloads and browser add-ons on the Internet. If you have any of them simply delete it per the instructions provided or run a spyware removing tool.

Crapware is a program that lies to you. Normally a crapware program will present itself as a security program that may or may not work but in reality it give you false alerts, tries to convince you to buy more security programs. Most crapware could also fall under Malware.

Bloatware programs may be good but the eat so much of the computers resources that they slow the entire system or parts of the system to a crawl. They are not intentionally malicious but do cause you a pain in the wallet by requiring more RAM, a faster CPU or removing them and buying another valid program. Symantec and McAfee security programs are two examples.

A Firewall can come in two forms, hardware and software. These days you can get hardware that has the software equivalent in it. Originally hardware firewalls kept hackers out. Software firewalls kept information in. To give you an idea, the Blaster worm spread (one way) by searching the internet for certain addresses (like the address on a house) and then checking for open ports (like a burglar checking the doors and windows to see if they are open). A hardware firewall looks for this “sniffing” about and blocks it. On the other hand, if you downloaded a program that had a trojan horse the hardware firewall might miss it because:

  1. You initiated the download.
  2. The Trojan horse program was not active yet.

A software firewall program would detect that something was trying to access the internet from your computer and block the program and ask you if you knew what was going on. For these reason’s I highly recommend both a hardware and software firewall.

Worm’s, like viruses are malicious programs that gain access to a computer or network through a variety of methods and cause intentional harm to them. Usually a worm will spread through know holes in software programs.

Bug’s in this sense are tracking objects and usually are found in cookies.

A cookie is a small file that is placed on your computer by a web site, or more recently by e-mails, that identifies the computer and user information in a way that can be used to track or identify a person by storing passwords and usernames. In most cases cookies are put to good use, however, some sites, advertisers and hackers use them to study a person and their habits or to retrieve personal information off of a computer system.

Today the threats listed above are not stand alone and are rarely only one of the threats. The vast majority are blended, a Trojan horse that not only has Spyware but also a worm that is set to disable your firewall.