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Computer Security


Computer security used to be an issue of concern mostly for businesses. With the growing popularity of broadband connections however, everyone with access to the Internet should be concerned with this growing problem. The following paragraphs touch upon some of the dangers and how to protect your computer from them.

Viruses. Hackers are busily working day and night to develop viruses to infect your computer. A typical virus is a software program that attaches itself to a seemingly harmless program, such as a WORD macro or a spreadsheet program. Whenever the affected program is run, the virus is activated and may replicate itself or otherwise cause disasterous results.An email virus is normally transmitted through email attachments. This type of virus usually replicates itself through the victims email address book. For this reason, one should be careful in opening email attachments, even those sent from people you know. The sender may not even be aware that his computer has been "hijacked" and is now sending the virus to everyone in his address book! A third type of infection is the "worm". This type of virus usually attacks computer networks with specific vulnerabilties. It then scans the other machines on the network for the same vulnerability and replicates itself to those machines as well. The fourth major type of virus is the "trojan horse". This type of virus is a computer program that claims to be one thing, such as a game, but actually works "behind the scenes" to work it's damage. Typical damage is the corruption or erasure of files on your hard drive, sometimes even formatting the drive. This type of virus does not usually replicate itself.

There are several excellent antivirus prograqms available. Two of the best are Norton AntiVirus and McAfee VirusScan. Whichever product you decide on, it is vitally important that you keep the virus data files updated (I update mine weekly). When hackers develop their viruses, they always do so with the thought in mind that they should escape detection by current virus datafiles. The two aforementioned products are kept updated by their manufacturers, usually with weekly data file updates.

Personal Firewalls. Firewalls protect your computer by stopping potential intruders from gaining access to your computer and data. Additionally, firewalls prevent unknown or hidden software from accessing the internet without your permission. The goal of any firewall is make your computer invisible to the Internet and potential intruders. One of the easiest to use and most effective personal firewalls is ZoneAlarm Pro. Another popular choice is the Sygate Personal Firewall ( free for personal use). Anyone with a broadband connection (always on) should install and configure a personal firewall. Remember: If Joe Hacker can see your computer on the Internet, he can work at his leisure to detect and exploit any security vulnerabilities you may have.

Spyware and Adware. Spyware is technology that aids in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge. Many companies distribute free software on the Web in exchange for the right to gather user information. When this is done without your knowledge, it is considered "spyware". Two such companies are Doubleclick and Aureate Media. These tools are perfectly legal in most places, but, just like an ordinary tape recorder, if they are abused, they can seriously violate your privacy. Two of the most popular removal tools are Adaware and Spybot: Search & Destroy, both are free.

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