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Internet Security Nov 17

I was on the phone the other day to my mum about pictures of the boat and got asked about internet security and should someone unplug there modem. After a little thought I put together the following information to try and clear up some of myths.

Broadband vs Dial Up.
Most of the “security alerts” that you will hear about these days are related to people who have PC’s with a broadband connection. Broadband is defined as high speed always on connection. “Always on” means that you are permanently connected to the internet in some form. Even this can be a little misleading. Lets define this even more that always on means:
Your internet connection equipment (USB ADSL Modem or ADSL Router) is powered on.
Your computer which is connected to the above equipment is powered on.

For example if you have a broadband connection but you have turned your computer off then you are “safe” from hackers. Safe is a relative word which I will go into later. Modern computers do have the ability to be woken up by remote control, but this is not used in the home environment. Turn the power off a the wall if you want to feel “extra” safe. No one can hack a computer that’s got no power!

When you have broad band and your computer is turned on extra precautions over and above dial-up need to be implemented for safe and responsible computing.

A dial up connection is literally just that, you computer must dial a phone number to talk to an internet company, then spend some time “negotiating” how they are going to talk. After this you are connected to the internet. It is during this time that you are connected to the internet that you need to be protected from hackers and I make some suggestions later.

Many myths with some facts abound about hackers particularly over dial up. Firstly hackers do exist, but going after dial up users is hardly worth their effort as they have to “wait” for you to dial up and connect. Second, they have to be fairly sophisticated as each time you dial the internet you will be allocated a different IP number which a hacker uses to track your information. Third the volume of data that can be transmitted over a dial up connection is very limited compared to broadband, if a hacker was able to install a program to grab information from your PC its going to take a very long time to transmit it all back to them.

Now some facts. It is possible for malicious persons to inadvertantly get you to install spyware/dialup software onto your PC. A very common trick I saw in the UK was to replace the internet dial up number from being free phone to premium rate. I don’t know if this existed in NZ but a couple of simple precautions are always be very careful when a site (particularly if it looks a little dodgy to start with) asks you to install software. Second set your dial up conection to always ask you when it wants to connect to the internet. This way you are always in control of when your computer is connecting to the internet and it will also show you the number its calling.

Dial Up Protection.
Always, always have a decent anti-virus software package installed and do keep it upto date. Many can be set to automatically update there virus signatures. Don’t pirate a copy, go and buy one, they are not that expensive and you will get support if you need it. Protection from viruses is the number one security problem faced by the IT industry.

Keep upto date with security patches from Microsoft. The last few years has seen a huge number of security patches released and is the bane of large IT deparments responsible for patching hundreds of computer. For the home user life is much easier and with Windows XP it is almost automatic. Under you security settings you can tell Windows to automatically update your machine. Even nicer is that it will do it in the background over a period of days slowly downloading the patch in the background.

Install some spyware software. I recommend for home users the product below.
http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/
Its small and simple and does the trick. Microsoft have launched there own anti spyware program, but the verdict is still out on how good this will be when fully available.

That basically does it security wise for dial up users. Broadband users have a different set of problems due to the fact that generally they are always connected to the internet (remember connection and computer turned on). This makes them far more susceptible to attack as they will have a known IP address and the hacker has time and access on there side. The addition of firewall software will go along way to stopping an attacker.

Without explaining indepth about firewall, ip addresses and ports, let just say that the internet knows how each type of application talks across the internet. ie your email program (port 25) talks differently from your browser (port 80). There are 1000’s of these ports all recognised internationally. What your firewall does is block those ports that you do not want to use. This stops hackers from accessing your PC. Windows XP now has a firewall built in and it seems adequate, there are other 3rd party products such as Zone Alarm and Black Ice.

When you install a new program onto your PC which need to access the internet (for example MSN Messenger) your firewall software will typically ask you if you want to allow the program access.

That covers basic internet security, if I remember more I’ll write it down. One other piece of advise is do not store bank account numbers with passwords on your PC. ie do not create a document called for example “passwords.doc” then store your bank acccount access number and password in it. Thats not secure in anyway, and I mean burglers or any dishonest person with phyical access to your PC.

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