Safer Computing

Author
Aron Schatz
Posted
April 1, 2004
Views
33078
Safer Computing
The modern PC is one of the most versatile and useful tools around, and is an irreplaceable part of one's business. Unfortunately, as computers have become more and more commonplace, so have the security risks: viruses, spyware, spam, and the like are in full-force and are doing their best to bring your PC down and ruin your week.
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Page 1
<B>Intro</B>:

We live in a world that uses computers more and more for nearly every facet of our lives - school, work, research, business, art - you name it. You most likely have important files, pictures, or other such items on you PC right now that, if you lost them somehow, you'd be in pretty bad shape, to say the least.

It is because of this fact that I encourage you to backup your data RIGHT NOW! See that CD-RW that came with your computer? Use it. Stick a CD in it and burn your files. Don't have a burner? There are numerous other options available to you. You can get a portable USB flash storage device for $10 or so and it can hold multiple documents. If the data is pictures, music, or something with media rich content, you'll want a larger size "thumbdrive", say, 256mb or larger. They can run up to $100 or more, but it'll get the job done with little effort.

Don't think because you have a second hard drive that you backup to that you're safe: trust me, you're not. Even if you have the latest virus definitions, there are other things that can happen to your computer. What happens if a new virus gets on the system and corrupts all the files? How about a full-on hard drive failure? Impossible you say? I've seen it happen. I work in a repair shop at a major computer company. Time after time, I hear 'My data is important'... 'Why don't you backup my data?'... 'My Business is on there!'. When asked why the person hasn't backed up their data even though most of them have a CD burner installed, the answer is usually 'I don't know how'. Ignorance is not an excuse. The internet has a wealth of information on this topic: Learn how to protect yourself before the unspeakable happens, or you'll learn the hard way eventually.

Regardless, before reading the rest of this article, please backup your data right now. You'll thank me later.

<B>Background</B>:

In case you didn't know, I work in a public repair shop at a large computer chain. If you work as a PC tech in a small business, don't think you've seen ANYTHING. In my first month alone, I learned more about different computers and the common problems that users are plagued with than I had previously in all my years of experience.

The sad part is that most of the problems seen could have be prevented at no cost to the user. Perhaps you can tighten up the security on your computer BEFORE service pack 2 for XP comes out. Let's get right into it: we've got lots to cover.

<B>Virus Protection</B>:

Virus writers are in full force and are having a field day with Windows XP. Many of you have virus protection already installed on your computer. Trust me: this is a good thing. New viruses come out almost DAILY and the virus definitions (the stuff that detects what virus is what) need to be updated weekly - sometimes faster than that. It doesn't take a long time to do this if you're on broadband, and is quick and painless.

If you don't have virus protection, shame on you! Even I use virus protection now. Recently, I've found a damn good antivirus program on the web. Best of all, it's free. It uses nearly zero system resources and I haven't had a problem with viruses since I've been using it. It may not be the best program to remove viruses already on the system, but it provides great protection for you if you install it before you have problems.

<center>AVG Free</center>

It is called AVG and you can get it from Grisoft (http://www.grisoft.com). The program requires a valid email address, but don't fret: no spam will come your way by registering the product.

<center>AVG CC</center>

<center>AVG Update</center>

The control center is easy to use and quite intuitive. The average person should have no trouble figuring it out. One recommendation I have to is always use the auto-update feature. If you have Norton Antivirus or McAfee Viruscan, I'd also suggest keeping the auto-update feature active. This makes sure you'll always have up-to-date definitions even if you forget to check on them.

<center>AVG Task</center>

Set AVG to run in the background, as it it uses minimal resources. I even have it on when I play games, and I've noticed no slow downs in the action with it on. Try THAT with Norton or McAfee.

<B>Spyware</B>:

Here is where things get strange. Somewhere between rogue programs and viruses, lays the nuisance called spyware. These programs aren't quite as malicious as viruses, and are usually designed to do things such as track your internet use or cause more pop-up ads to appear while you surf. Get enough spyware on your system, and it'll become slower and more unstable than you could believe. I'll bet you have spyware on your system right now without you knowing it.

Quote

A technology that assists in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge. On the Internet, "spyware is programming that is put in someone's computer to secretly gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or other interested parties." As such, spyware is cause for public concern about privacy on the Internet.


That is the basic definition of spyware. And now that you know what is, we'll go through the steps to protect yourself from it.

There are two programs that I use daily in my war against spyware. Each of them by themselves are good, but running both together is much more inclusive. Download Adaware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com) and Spybot (http://www.safer-networking.org).

<center>Adaware</center>

Adaware itself is a great program and takes care of many pieces of spyware. I've seen over 1400 pieces of spyware detected on a customer's PC by Adaware alone - You know you're in trouble when there are more running spyware programs than normal system tasks! Anyway, make sure to update Adaware and run it at least once a week. This is also like free virus protection, except that you have to run it for it be effective. Again, don't forget to keep it updated - there's new spyware discovered all the time.

<center>Adaware Update</center>

Downloading an update is simple and easy thanks to the built in update feature. If you run this program alone, you may be okay, but I suggest another program to go along side it.

<center>Spybot</center>

Spybot is another great spyware destroyer and it has some very nice features that make it perfect to use alongside Adaware. This will catch nearly everything that Adaware doesn't find, and it also has a nifty feature that's called immunize - this will prevent known spyware from reinfecting your system.

<center>Spybot Immunization</center>

I'd also suggest setting Spybot to "block bad pages". Both of these options are "proactive" in that they block harmful things from getting onto your computer in the first place. I've seen much less junk trying to download onto my computer since I've immunized my system and blocked all bad pages. FYI: I'm running the new Beta of Spybot, my interface may look slightly different than the stable version. Remember to update Spybot as well - as i said, new spyware is coming out every single day.
Page 2
<B>Spam</B>:

Spam is more of a nuisance than a secruity risk, but it's still something we all want to minimize. I get nearly 200 emails of spam a day, and I know many people get much more than I do. There are programs you can buy that take care of the spam, but nothing I've seen works nearly as well as Spambayes (http://spambayes.sf.net). It is a bayesian spam filter with built-in learning and training. After I've set it up, nearly all my spam was gone, with no false positives that I've seen so far.

<center>Spambayes Bar</center>

Spambayes can integrate into Outlook or sit between any POP3 email program and your server to filter the spam out. I've been using this for about a month now and it has been a breeze to use.

<center>Spambayes CP</center>

By now, I've "trained" Spambayes to detect almost double the amount of spam. Over time it learns the difference between spam and "ham" (legitimate email) on it's own as well. All in all, it's a great plug-in or standalone program that you should be using. It is free, after all.

<B>Links</B>:

<B>Virus stuff</B>:

AVG: http://www.grisoft.com
Norton: http://www.symantec.com
McAfee: http://www.mcafee.com

<B>Spyware Stuff</B>:

Adaware: http://www.lavasoftusa.com
Spybot: http://www.safer-networking.org

<B>Spam</B>:

Spambayes: http://spambayes.sf.net

<B>Conclusion</B>:

This wasn't meant to be the definitive guide for safer computing, but it should serve as a good beginner's guide. By being more informed about your computer and it's fallacies, and by using the programs that I've outlined, you should at least have more peace of mind while browsing the internet, reading emails, and the like. Your computer is a great tool to have - treat it right and keep it as safe and secure as possible.

RudeMoody contributed to this guide.

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