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Securing Your Computer

With all of the identity thieves, hackers, crackers and virus creators trying to take your identity or just cause problems, how does the average person keep their information and computer out the hands of the bad boys and girls in Internet land. This question has been pondered and discussed by many experts over the last several years and while no single answer is apparent, many good suggestions have been published to address these issues.

First off let me say that I understand the problem many of you face when it comes to security as you only want to use your computer without having to obtain an advanced degree and invest countless hours protecting your data, so let us start by defining the problem.

The Problem!

Most of the problems we have with security stem from the fact that 90% of us use the Windows environment. If you are using an Apple or Linux operating system your chances of catching a virus or having someone access your computer without your knowledge is quite small as both of these environments are very secure. That doesn't mean you aren't open for problems, it means the odds are in your favor. Windows on the other hand has so many security holes that one could drive a very large truck through them.

Now you may ask, why is that so? And while their is no simple or single answer, the best one is that because Microsoft is big, rich and Windows is so widely used Microsoft got caught with its pants down by not anticipating that it would become a target for every wannabe baddie out there. Microsoft has singularly created an update, patch and security based industry for their products. Case in point: Anti-virus software such as Norton Anit-Virus is primarily designed to protect Windows Outlook and Outlook Express; Lavasoft's Adaware is primarily designed to address and detect spyware (more on this later) that can be planted on your Windows based computer.

Some Protection is better than none.

It doesn't matter what version of Windows you are using, they all have venerability's. The following list should give you a good start:

1. Download the latest service packs from Microsoft If this link does not take you to the correct page, try using the Windows Update feature in the start menu. (This is free)

2. Download the latest security patches and install them on your computer. Again, use the link above or the Windows Update button in your start menu.

3. Update or install a good anti-virus program. I like Norton Anti-Virus but their are others that do a good job. The software can be downloaded and purchased at Norton. To update a current installation, open your anti-virus program and use the software update feature.

More Problems

Some nasty people hang out on the Internet scanning for open connections to your computer, the best defense is to use a firewall based router but if you don't have one, at a minimum install a software based firewall. WindowsXP has one built in, please be sure to turn it on. If you are not running XP or want better protection, two products are available, one is free and the other low cost. The free one is named Zone-Alarm and can be downloaded at their web site. The other is named BlackIce Defender and can be downloaded - purchased at  Be aware that if you have more than one computer, you will need to do some setup work.

Another problem is Spyware. Spyware can either be tracking code embedded into a cookie or a stealth application that can be planted on your computer and track your surfing habits as well as change your default Windows settings or hijack your browsers home page. 

To address this type of problem, two free shareware programs are available Lavasoft's AdAware and Spybot both do a good job or finding and removing the Spyware and I would suggest you download and install both as each has its strengths.

If you follow all of the steps above your computer should be well protected. A last bit of advice is to be sure and check for updates frequently at all of the above site as hackers, kiddie-scripters and bad guys are always coming up with new ways to harass us.


Stan Gelber


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