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an introduction to net security

The Internet is an enormous resource for information. But it can also be a source of nuisance to your computer as you surf, if you have not protected it with appropriate software. If you do not take precautions, others will invade your computer, even extracting personal information, mischievously wiping out your data or using your computer to attack other net users without your awareness.[1]

While this warning may seem fearsome, our experience is that most invasions are far more of a nuisance than a serious danger; though there are some very nasty things around. If one of your programs tells you that you have an invasion, don’t panic, don’t act precipitately or impulsively. Take careful note of any messages the defence software provides and go and read if you have problems, unless you have a friendly techie to hand.

Of course, the best the advice is:
don’t wait until you are infected, take reasonable precautions as curing an illness is always more of a pest than not catching one in the first place.

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frontline defence

It is a battlefield out there, with the nasties always trying to find new ways to invade your home patch, your computer.

FIREWALL The free version of ZoneAlarm appears to work very well. If you choose to pay (annually) you have extra protection goodies, such as protection from pop-up advertisements. However, by using a Firefox browser, you can have very adequate protection from pop-ups anyway.

A firewall runs continuously on your computer, in the background of whatever else you are doing, and stops dead any uninvited intrusion attempts. A firewall will not stop nasty things sneaking in once you have opened the gate to the Internet by visiting web-sites or receiving e-mails.

Another free-for-personal use firewall is the Sygate firewall. However, although it may give a wider protection than ZA, it can be a bit tricky to configure (set up) correctly.

Another free-for-individual-use firewall is the avast home edition firewall.

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SPYWAREBLASTER SpywareBlaster, once set up, runs in the background. It

  • prevents the installation of ActiveX -based spyware,diallers etc
  • restricts the actions of spyware/tracking sites in Internet Explorer
  • prevents spyware/tracking cookies in Mozilla/Firefox.

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To make sure that only the cookies you have chosen remain, we suggest installing WinPatrol, another background program. For more information on cookies and WinPatrol, read the companion article, stopping advertising malware, including cookies.

 

ANTI-VIRUS Our suggested anti-virus programme is chosen on the basis of being the anti-virus programme that has found the most problems on abelard.org systems, not on whether the anti-virus can disinfect an infected computer. [2]

Currently, the home edition of Avast appears very effective, although it does not run its searches automatically. However, if a scan is run each time that the database, or the program, is announced as updated, this appears to be sufficient.

 

surfing the net and receiving email

Your window onto the hyperspace universe also needs to be robustly secure. We do not regard Microsoft Internet Explorer as adequate [see this abelard news item].

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For a BROWSER, we suggest Firefox, the stand-alone browser from Mozilla. This better than using Mozilla itself, which is a large multi-feature package that does not do any one task as well as a number of smaller single-task programs.

If you have to view pages in M$ IE (some pages do only work in IE), one of the extensions to Firefox will enable you to open a particular web-page in IE [you have to have IE installed on your computer]. Another extension will add a Google-type toolbar to your Firefox browser. There are many other extensions available for customising Firefox. [3]

For those who will not renounce M$ Internet Explorer, we advise that you download IE-SPYAD Restricted Sites List for Internet Explorer, then merge [this occurs when the installation program is run, instructions provided on the linked download page] the file into your registry and, as the IE-SPYAD site advises, configure your IE ‘Restricted sites zone’ security options for maximum paranoia by setting everything to “disable” or “prompt”.

“Once you merge this list of sites and domains into the Registry, the web sites for these companies will not be able to use cookies, ActiveX controls, Java applets, or scripting to compromise your privacy or your PC while you surf the Net. Nor will they be able to use your browser to push unwanted pop-ups, cookies, or auto-installing programs on your PC.”

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EMAIL To read your email, use another Mozilla application, Thunderbird. Do not use M$ Outlook Express, which is one of the main routes in for viruses and other programs that can take control of your computer. (This section on attachments gives some reasons why.) Thunderbird includes intelligent, Bayesian spam filters and a built-in spell checker.

 

secondary defences

Now for other important, though only occasionally used, programmes. Why have them? Because most security programmes are specialised and none will catch every nasty invader to your computer.

Remember, for the programs to remain useful, you should check for updates regularly, like every Wednesday or the first day of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter (or anything else that is easy to remember and occurs regularly). You should run the programs regularly too.

Our experience is that once your computer is clean, it takes only a little regular checking to make sure that your computer remains clean

Updated section:

  • SPYWARE TERMINATOR Spyware Terminator is a simple,effective spyware remover that provides real-time protection against spyware, adware, trojan horses, keyloggers, browser hijackers and other malware threats.

    Spyware Terminator can be set to run semi-automatically every day, including updating the spyware library, thus making it easier to remember to regularly clean your computer system.

Also recommended are the following two software packages. However, Spyware Terminator was able to find malware that both AdAware and Spybot Search and Destroy missed. Of course, this may be a matter of each software using its own spyware definition library.

  • AD-AWARE AdAware looks at your registry to see whether advertising malware has infiltrated unwanted settings.

  • SPYBOT S&D SpyBot Search and Destroy can “detect and remove spyware of different kinds from your computer” or replace them with empty dummies (files), this allows the web page containing the spyware still to display. Spybot S&D also offers protection against malevolent software that uses the M$ ActiveX method of displaying dynamically changing pages.

if you have problems

If despite all your efforts, something nasty gets in, or if you are not sure why strange things are happening, you can go for help on the Net. For instance, if your anti-virus has thrown up a warning that you have a Trojan, before you tell the AV programme to quarantine or delete it, write down the name of the little delight and in which folder (it might be quite a long address) it has taken up residence.

Go look up the fellah on the net, there are lots of helpful, though sometimes somewhat technical, sites and forums out there.

help forums

A very helpful forum is run by computercops.biz. If you think you have problems, read this linked page and follow the instructions on how to ask them for help.
This web-page lists a large selection of other appropriate help forums.

Before asking a question for help, you may have to register and receive a confirmation e-mail. This will be in order to prevent a forum being spammed or otherwise attacked. Additionally, it is sensible to first read the f.a.q.s and any advice on asking questions or constructing your posting to the forum, in order that you do not waste these volunteer techies’s time with a poorly prepared question or message.

major reference sites for information on malware of various sorts are:


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glossary

Cookies are special small packets of data left on your computer by other computers on the Net. The computers on the Net later refer to their cookie (or cookies) for the data about you that is being held.

A program running in the background is working continuously, while you are using other programmes or surfing the net. Such programmes often watch for potential problems, either dealing with a problem themselves (according to configuration instructions you gave previously), or by asking what you wish to be done.

 

end notes

  1. If you want to have some notion of how complicated this can become, you might like to read this article by Steven Gibson, though this is far beyond the level you will probably ever need to know.

  2. Only one anti-virus should run at a time on a computer. Two anti-viruses would be in continual conflict with one another.

  3. This web-page tests your browser’s ability to kill pop-up windows and block ads. However, be sure to only go here if you are certain that you have adequate protection set up in your browser. Otherwise, the page can invade your computer with many pop-up windows and ads simultaneously. Firefox blocked all but one of the tests.

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