There are quite a few factors that
dictate how safe the data is on your computer. In defining
"safety", we can either talk about it being safe from virus
attack, safe from system damage, or safe from intrusion.
Each topic is an article unto
itself so we will only talk about intrusion here. Intrusion,
the act of someone that you don't know who gains access to your
computer without your permission, is on the rise. That's the
The good news is that the vast
majority of hackers are not sophisticated enough to get into your
system if you employ a few precautions.
If you are a VP at a local bank
and people know who you are, then you might have a few of the better
hackers trying to get into your system so that they can try to get
into the bank's data. Otherwise, lets face
it... there are too many easy prey out there for them to bother with
a modestly protected computer.
What hackers are looking for
Honestly... there are no hackers out there that are looking to
steal your latest great novel, your tax records, or even your
latest digital pictures of the grandkids.
In fact, if you are
like 99.9% of Americans, there is nothing at all on your computer
that a stranger would really be interested in. You may now
want certain things to be available to the public, but that doesn't
infer that anyone else has any interest.
Hackers are more interested in
gaining access to your computer and using it for other purposes.
If a hacker can gain access and use
your Internet access, then they can use your machine to
launch other attacks on other computers and keep themselves pretty
are certain applications that take days to months to run a series of
processes on even the fastest computer. But if a hacker can
gain access to 1000 computers and utilize their combined processing power, an
process that would take a month on a single computer could complete
the operation in less than an hour.
Protecting your computer
Keeping your computer up to date isn't as hard as it might
sound. Much of it can even be done over the Internet.
Update the operating
Regardless of which operating system you use, if it is a
Microsoft system such as Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows
2000, or Windows XP, Microsoft has an online utility that allows you
to upgrade your system at no charge to you.
In fact, you don't
even have to know what operating system (or OS) you are using to
take advantage of this capability.
The later operating systems have
better security built into them than the earlier ones, but all
will be able to access the online patches that Microsoft
offers. To update your Microsoft operating system, simply go
and click on "Product Updates".
Follow the instructions and
Microsoft will not only determine what operating system you are
using, it will find out what security holes you have in your OS and
will automatically download and install those patches for you.
You will probably have to restart your machine as soon as that is
Regardless of which internet service provider (ISP) you use (AOL, MSN, Prodigy, cable access
or DSL company) you should also install a firewall. Some
internet service providers claim that they have a firewall built in,
but the ones that I have seen are very ineffective if they are there
Simply put, a firewall is a piece
of software that stops intruders from accessing your computer.
It sets up rules that allow you to access the Internet, but doesn't
allow others to access your computer from the outside.
There are several great firewalls
out there right now. Some are free, but for the sake of
computer security, it's probably best to go the route of a known
package that you pay for. For the money, I recommend Norton's
Internet Security, available from Symantec.
You can download it if you want and
are familiar with download procedures, but I highly recommend that
you purchase the CD version from your local computer store and
install it through your CD drive.
For about $60, you can get your
computer up to speed and give it a very decent level of security.
Trojans and other funky animals
Sometimes an intrusion comes from the inside out. If you have
accidentally downloaded a virus or someone has gained access to your
machine, it is possible that you have a Trojan on your machine.
A Trojan is aptly named because
much like the stories of Homer, the Trojan is surreptitiously put
onto your computer and then it acts behinds the scenes.
in place, the Trojan can carry on all sorts of activities including
sending information out of your computer or creating a hole in a
firewall that allows someone else to have outside access to it.
Trojans can be a little tricky to
get rid of. But once they are found, they are generally pretty
easy to wipe out... sneaky and nasty but not very strong.
Antivirus programs can often find and eliminate viruses and Trojans
(more info). Occasionally one will
slip by and I have used a piece of software by MooSoft
that was originally built to find and destroy Trojans. Best of
all, you can get a free trial on the software and clean your
computer long before the offer expires.
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