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Snakes Among Sweet Flowers Do Creep

Don’t think for a moment that your network can’t be compromised

“I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image.” — Stephen Hawking

iStockphoto/Robert Creigh We wrote in the Jan. 13 and March 10 issues about protecting your network from worms and other threats.

Don’t think for a moment that your computer network cannot be compromised. Hackers have thousands of tools at their disposal to use to compromise your computers and file servers.

Take some time and look closely at your computer network. Where are the likely spots that intruders could get in? Are all of the computers on your network protected by antivirus software? Do you have a firewall in place to “hide” your computers from possible intruders?

A hardware firewall is preferable, such as a Linksys Broadband Firewall Router, but a software firewall, such as the one included with Windows, is better than nothing.

The disadvantage with using a software firewall that is constantly running, it takes up RAM and could slow down the computers performance.

Here are 10 tips about protecting your computer network and all equipment attached to it from a possible intrusion.

  1. Update your computer. Stop using computers with old operating systems such as Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME. These OS are so old and outdated, they cannot be considered secure.
  2. Update Microsoft Windows XP. Make sure that your automatic update setting in Windows Control Panel is turned on. This ensures that all new vulnerabilities on your computer are patched up as soon as Microsoft discovers a new threat and develops a patch. This will ensure that your computer is always up to date.
  3. Install antivirus software. I can’t say this enough. Your first defense is this software. It really doesn’t matter which brand you choose, there are a dozen out there that will get the job done. Just make sure that with the purchase of the software you get automatic updates for the time period that your subscription is good for, and make sure that the automatic updates are scheduled to check for any updates or patches, daily! Also, once a month, perform a full system scan to ensure that nothing slipped in between antivirus software updates.
  4. Install anti-spyware. Spyware and viruses go hand in hand. Spyware gets its name from the fact that it allows someone else to view your personal files, gain access to passwords, track your movement on the Internet and allow some degree of control over your computer. Like the antivirus software, there are many brands out there. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with and gives you the best protection. There are software companies that offer anti-spyware and antivirus in the same package. This is generally cheaper to purchase in a bundled package vs. purchasing separately.
  5. Use a spam filter. Spam filters can block e-mails suspected of being spam or they can flag certain e-mails suspected of being spam. The real danger of spam is that it is a tool often used by hackers to slip a virus, spyware or other infectious code into your computer.
  6. Use a firewall to hide your computers from malicious attackers. A hardware firewall is preferred, but if you cannot afford one, at least use the windows firewall in Microsoft and make sure that it is set to regularly check for updates. If using a hardware firewall, never use the default settings, and always change the user name/password from the default setting. Most hardware firewalls use port 5900 as the default. Use some number higher than the default. This makes it much harder for intruders to figure out what port is opened to gain access. As for the username/password, use a combination of letters and numbers, and just for good measure, throw in capital and lower-case letters.
  7. Change your computer passwords often. I would recommend changing passwords every 60 days, and like the passwords for the firewall router, use numbers along with upper/lower case letters for the password.
  8. Back up your data often. Storage devices have dropped considerably in price. You can purchase a 1 TB external drive these days for less than $100 or if you do not have that much data to back up, a simple thumb drive will do the trick. I have seen some of these recently for as little as $18 for an 8 GB drive.
  9. Periodically check your computers to ensure that automatic updates are turned on and working. Some of the viruses out today specifically target the automatic update function of your antivirus software, and turn it off so critical updates cannot be installed.
  10. And finally, if you do not feel confident in maintaining the security of your network, hire a competent professional in your area that you trust to do the job. Or if you do not know enough about network security, perhaps you can hire him or her to train you on what to do and how to do it. Perhaps you can work it out to where you can call and ask questions when needed or they can be “on call” when a situation arises.

I recently had a Mac user tell me that the Mac was virtually unable to be infected by a computer virus!

While it’s true that many Mac users do not even run any type of antivirus software, they can and do get viruses, especially if running a virtual PC on an Apple MacIntosh; it is emulating Microsoft Windows, therefore it can be infected with Windows viruses.

As a standalone, the Mac is less likely to be attacked for several reasons: 1) Newer operating systems such as the Mac OS X are built on the Unix kernel, which is one of the oldest and most secure operating systems available. 2) Most virus writers are more familiar with the IBM platform and Microsoft Windows, therefore are only going to be able to create a virus for that platform. 3) Because most of the world uses Windows over Mac, Windows users are a much bigger target.

I have not had the opportunity to check out Windows 7 but from what I hear, vast improvements have been made to the OS, especially in the area of security. If you have had issues with Windows 7 security, or other suggestions for future IT articles, drop me an e-mail and let me know about it: [email protected].

Brian Cunningham, CBRE, is chief engineer for Crawford Broadcasting’s western New York region, based in Buffalo.