If you have, or are considering, high-speed Internet access, you need some basic knowledge to keep your personal information safe online.
With dial-up access, simply maintaining some form of decent anti-virus software and having a spyware utility kept you pretty safe. The fact is, you were simply not a desirable target (very slow connection with limited bandwidth) for someone to come after and therefore, use of a firewall was optional. But since broadband — high-speed — access with a dynamic IP address is a cut above a dial-up connection, you are much more likely to be targeted.
In addition to anti-virus and spyware utilities, a software firewall can’t hurt. If you do not leave the connection up when you’re not using the computer, the firewall isn’t particularly necessary. However, if you do leave the connection up, with the computer on, for long periods of time, a software firewall is desirable. Your IP address will not typically change unless your connection has been dropped. The longer you maintain the same IP address, the more vulnerable you become.
Broadband access with a static IP address should employ all three forms of protection. Use of a properly configured software firewall will prevent an attacker from gaining unauthorized access and turning your computer into a zombie – a computer attached to the Internet that has been compromised by a hacker, a computer virus.
If you have a home network, make sure there is a router or hardware firewall in place as well. These days, the difference between the two has blurred somewhat and is more important for the business owner than the home network user. Therefore, if this is for home use, a decent router (Linksys, Netgear, DLink, Belkin, etc.) will do the trick as many of them have a form of firewall built in. Additionally, once the hardware firewall exists, the software firewall on individual computers is not necessary. But anti-virus and spyware utilities are still a must. And again, I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping those utilities up to date as well as using them to do scans on a regular basis.
Businesses, regardless of IP addressing scheme or multiple vs. a single computer, should employ the use of a hardware firewall that offers Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) and Denial of Service (DOS) attack protection. Businesses are more attractive targets for the nefarious than the residential user.
If you live in a city/town area with a fairly dense population need to consider heavier security than those that live in rural areas with residents that are spread out. Why? Fewer people means less chance of someone attempting to use your network. Base your security on your geographical area and the risk of someone else attempting to use your network.
Where the dangers lie
Email is the No. 1 largest method by which machines will become infected by a virus/trojan. It’s also the major medium for you to be reached with phishing scams. If you receive an email with an attachment from someone you don’t know, regard it with caution. When you receive a link in email, is it pointing to a named host, or an IP address? If it points to an IP address, there’s a fair chance that you might be walking into something. If an institution sends you an email requesting private information OR they provide a link for you to update private information, is it valid? Again, be suspicious. It never hurts to go to the Web site of such an institution, look for valid contact information there, and ask if they sent you the email. Use of such caution will go a long way to keeping you and your computer safe.
The downloading of freeware and shareware programs from the Internet is likely the No. 1 source of spyware/malware that finds its way onto systems. Vendors often cut costs by agreeing to package a third party’s software with theirs that will be installed on your computer (often without your knowledge) when you install the main package. To guard against this, read available information to see what’s included. When installing, read the End User License Agreement (EULA). After installing, run your favorite spyware scanner with its newly updated definitions.
Do you use your Internet Service to do some online shopping? A lot of people do. Such shopping usually requires the use of a credit card. When doing this, there are two major things that you should do in the interests of keeping your identity and credit card safe from unauthorized use by others. First, make sure the site you’re about to use is employing some form of secure encryption for your transaction. Most sites will tell you if they are; look for “https” before the Web site URL. Second, use only one credit card for such transactions. It is much easier for you to keep track of your online transactions on one credit card than it is to monitor two or more.
The Internet is a giant tool like any other It can be used for good or evil like most any other tool. Because some choose to use it for “the dark side,” the rest of us are compelled to use some care. Now, go have fun and make sure you keep those utilities up to date!