All entries for October 2004

October 18, 2004

How secure is your computer?

If your computer doesn't have these…

  • Firewall
  • Virus scanner
  • Spyware remover

…or they're not up-to-date, you need to take action! To find out more about securing your computer, look at my 'Protect Your Computer' entries. Or if you're an expert on computer security, please add comments with suggestions or improvements!

Any questions? Add a comment!


October 17, 2004

Money–related threats

Phishing is the use of hoax emails claiming to be from financial institutions to obtain peoples' bank or credit card details. A phishing email might claim to be from your bank, asking you to confirm your details. If you were to release your details in this way, your money could be stolen.

You will never be asked by a legitimate organisation to confirm your details by email. Never reply to phishing emails.

Dialers are malicious programs which can connect to premium rate phone lines without your knowledge whilst you are connected to the internet. You may only realise that you had a dialer program on your computer when you get the phone bill! Some dialers can detect when a user has been away from the computer for a while by monitoring mouse and keyboard activities, and will wait until they think they can change the connection without being noticed. Dialers are removed by anti-virus programs such as Norton Antivirus.


Backing up

Backing up your files has got to be the most important protection you can have. You should frequently copy your files onto removable media such as writable CDs and DVDs, flash drives and memory cards, or even floppy disks (unreliable but better than nothing). If your computer were to suffer from failure of hardware (for example your hard disk) or the effects of a malicious program, a recent backup of all your important files could save you hours of work!

You could have a series of say five writable media (such as CD-Rs) for backing up your most important files as you work on them. The media would be numbered 1 to 5, and each time a backup was made the next medium would be used. This system has certain advantages:

  • If you are using rewritable media, you can overwrite the oldest backups and still have several recent ones.
  • The media that you are backing up to will suffer less wear than a single medium would when used frequently.
  • Even backups can fail (for example a CD-R with a label-side scratch, or a corrupted floppy disk) but with frequent backing up with this system you would be pretty much guaranteed a working recent copy of your work.

October 16, 2004

Protecting against hackers

What are hackers?

Hackers are people who attempt to gain unauthorised access to computers and networks. Hackers gaining access to your computer could potentially edit or remove your files, or install malicious programs. However, hackers are mainly interested in corporate networks where the challenge is bigger and the rewards are greater.

How can I block hackers?

You can block hackers by using a firewall program on your computer. Firewalls can also improve the general security of your computer by preventing malicious programs from being downloaded, and not allowing websites to monitor your surfing activities.

Firewalls are typically included with internet security packages. ZoneLabs' ZoneAlarm is a powerful and highly customisable firewall. If you are using Windows XP you can use its built-in firewall. For the best internet security you should install Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, as well as regularly updating Windows. Once installed, Service Pack 2 will automatically activate Windows Firewall and improve the security of Internet Explorer. Service Pack 2 is free to download or a CD can be ordered from Microsoft. To download the service pack, go to Windows Update on Microsoft's website by clicking on the following link:

Windows Update

Before you install Service Pack 2, you should check that your computer is not running any programs which are incompatable with it. Visit Microsoft's website for a list of incompatable programs:

Incompatable programs

For more information about dealing with compatablility problems visit:

More Information

Don't forget to keep checking for security updates for Windows and all your security software.


Protecting against viruses

What are viruses?

Viruses are programs that are able to replicate themselves. Generally they spread via the internet, because in this way they can infect many computers very quickly. Virus programmers are writing new viruses all the time, and different viruses are designed to do different things. Some viruses are just annoying jokes, whilst others are capable of corrupting and removing your files.

How can I remove viruses?

You can use an anti-virus program to search for and destroy viruses. Some anti-virus programs also prevent viruses from installing, by scanning email attachments and downloaded files (which may have viruses attached) as soon as they arrive on your computer.

If you are studying at Warwick you can share the university's Symantec Norton Antivirus licence, which means you can get the anti-virus program and updates for free. To download Norton Antivirus, or to download the necessary patch if you have Service Pack 2 installed on Windows XP, click on the link below:

Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition/Patch for Service Pack 2

Before you install Norton Antivirus, be sure to first uninstall any other anti-virus software you might already be using.

When you have installed Norton Antivirus, you should run Live Update as soon as possible to get the latest virus information, and then scan your computer. You should then continue to run and update Norton Antivirus frequently (at least every few days).

The removal of some malware may require special tools, rather than your virus scanner. Some worm removal tools are available from Symantec:

Removal tools

If you think your virus scanner might have missed some malware, get a second opinion. There are various free online scanners – try Panda ActiveScan:

Panda ActiveScan


Protecting against spyware

What is spyware?

Spyware is a general name for spying programs that try to obtain information about you or your computer. These programs can be downloaded onto your computer without your knowledge whilst you are connected to the internet. Some spyware programs monitor your surfing activites and are used by advertising companies to try to find out what sort of products you would buy so they can target you with pop-up adverts and spam emails. Other spyware may be used to steal your passwords and bank details.

How can I remove spyware?

You can use a spyware removal program to search for and destroy spyware. Some spyware removal programs are included with internet security packages that you can buy, or alternatively you can download a free program such as Ad-Aware. This will search for and remove spyware both on your hard disk and in your computer memory:

Ad-Aware

Like anti-virus programs, spyware removal programs will need to be run and updated frequently to ensure that your computer is secure. Unlike anti-virus software, you can use more than one spyware removal program on your computer. Microsoft are developing a spyware blocking and removal program, which should be available as a free download when the final version is released. Panda's free online scanner is now able to detect (though not remove) spyware, as well as viruses:

Panda ActiveScan

Ad-Aware is known to be reliable and effective, and is probably the best option for most users at present.


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