In today's computing environment, it is the responsibility of each person to take appropriate steps to secure of their personal computers. Physical security of the system is a large component of computer security, but it is only the beginning. Regardless of whether a computer has a constant Internet connection (network, DSL, cable modem, etc.) or is used only on a dial-up line, it is essential that certain steps be taken to ensure your computing safety.
There are three primary areas in which you can keep your computer protected against viruses, worms, and other threats:
- Install an antivirus software package and be sure to keep the virus definition files up to date. Update the definition files no less than once per week.
- Install a firewall software package such as ZoneAlarm. A firewall acts like a fortified security system on your Internet connection, allowing nothing in that isn't given specific permission by you to enter your computer. Although Windows XP (with Service Pack 2 or later) Vista, and Windows 7 each have a built-in firewall, ZoneAlarm provides the added protection of blocking unauthorized outbound communications from your computer.
- Use Microsoft Update to keep your operating system and MS Office products up to date. Install all service packs, critical updates, quickfixes, and patches. Microsoft Update should be run on all computers a minimum of once a month.
There are plenty of antivirus products out that are both free and subscription-based. Packages from vendors such as McAfee and Symantec may be bought at local stores or downloaded online. Other vendors selling antivirus products online include TrendMicro, Kaspersky and ZoneAlarm. Free pacakages by be downloaded from AVG, avast!, and Microsoft.
In addition to selling antivirus, the makers of ZoneAlarm got their start providing an award winning firewall software. Most firewall software packages (ZoneAlarm included) prevent anything from connecting to your computer via the Internet or network without your permission. ZoneAlarm takes this security a step further in that it stops any programs on your computer from connecting to the Internet unless you specifically allow it. This is especially helpful should you accidentally download a brand new virus or trojan program that attempts to spread itself through your Internet connection.
ZoneAlarm presently comes in three versions: ZoneAlarm, ZoneAlarm Pro, and the ZoneAlarm Security Suite (combines firewall, antivirus, and antispyware protection). The base version of ZoneAlarm is free for individual use. ZoneAlarm Pro and the Security Suite are commericial packages that must be purchased. (It should be noted that both ZoneAlarm Pro and the ZoneAlarm Security Suite are excellent program and are highly recommended.) ZoneAlarm can be downloaded from http://www.zonelabs.com. Click the link that says "Download and Buy", then click the link for ZoneAlarm. The prevous URL also provides details of the additional features of ZoneAlarm Pro and the ZoneAlarm Security Suite.
Each year, Microsoft releases dozens and dozens of Microsoft Security Bulletins addressing security issues within Windows, Internet Explorer, Outlook, and Office - literally an average of over one per week.Microsoft Update. is the mechanism by which Microsoft provides updates to it's operating systems and Office suite. It is through Microsoft Update that Microsoft distributes service packs and critical updates that either fix problems in Windows, or protect against known vulnerabilities in Windows or Internet Explorer. Microsoft never distributes service packs or critical updates via e-mail.
Microsoft's current schedule is to release critical updates and patches once a month on the second Tuesday of the month. However, they will deviate from that schedule if a flaw or vulnerability is severe enough to release a special update. To be certain that you stay current, it is recommended that Microsoft Update should be run at least once per week. (Another option that is highly recommended is is Windows users to turn on "Automatic Updates". This will automatically check for, download, and install updates when they are released by Microsoft. Users can set Automatic Updates to run as often as once per day or once per week on a specific day and time).
In addition to viruses, worms, and trojans circulating the Internet, there are also plenty of hoaxes. Hoaxes are typically scare alerts started by malicious people and are completely false. These alerts are then forwarded on by innocent users who think they are helping to warn the the online community by spreading the word. If you receive an e-mail that warns about some previous unknown virus and encourages you to pass it along to everyone in your address book, chances are it's a hoax.
The F-Secure Corp is a manufacturer of computer security products and maintains a web page at where you can search their hoax database. The page is found at http://www.f-secure.com/virus-info/hoax/.
Before you unknowingly forward a well documented hoax to everyone you know, take a minute and search the database. Your friends will be glad you did.