There was a time not long ago when Internet security was something few people had to bother about. This is no longer the case. Last year I got sent a virus message that I accidentally opened. I didn't know it at the time, but, within a few days my system got so unreliable that it was crashing every five minutes, and I couldn't run anything. I was off the net for three days while I bought and ran a virus checker and cleaned my system,
and I lost every .mp3 and .jpg file I had, including all my artwork.
No Elfwooder wants this to happen to them. Here's what you need to do to safeguard your system. These features -should- be included as part of the operating system, but currently they are not. Maybe one day they will be, but, until that day, you'll have to install them yourself.
Because I'm a Windows user, I talk about windows software. You need the same type of software for Mac or Linux systems, but you may need to find different specific programs. Try doing a google search to find the right application for your system, and RTFM (Read the Manual).
This is the most important thing every Internet user needs. Because Viruses actively spread themselves through email and attempt to damage your hard drive, you will need one. There are free virus checkers available, but, because viruses are so dangerous, I recommend using a commercial product here. These are automatically updated against the latest threats.
I recommend Norton or McAfee.
I'm a Norton AntiVirus (NAV) user. NAV scans your hard drive, checks files as they run, and scans email as it goes in and out. This regularly finds and cleans viruses as they attempt to arrive on your system. McAfee is equally good, according to those in the know.
These are quite expensive, but necessary. If you've only got a little money to spend then spend it here.
Megan Larson offers:
Some larger universities have corporate licensing for Norton AntiVirus, and offer the program free of charge to any current staff member or student. Check with your school to see if it is available.
This stops hackers or programs from accessing your machine when they shouldn't be allowed to. Every Internet machine has an IP number, which is an address in "Internet space". It looks something like this:
This is like a phone number for your PC. When another machine "calls" you to transfer data, such as email, .mp3 files, or pager notifications, they call this number.
Each PC also has a number of ports, which usually have 4 digit numbers like 1234, 6666 or 1701. These are like individual telephone lines. Your email program might be talking on line 1100 while your browser talks on line 0080.
A firewall is a program that sits between your operating system and the Internet. It controls the access to all of the ports into and out of your machine. This means that you can tell when another system is trying to call you, and you can tell when one of your programs is trying to call out.
Say you just downloaded a program called "funny.exe" from a web site that is supposed to show a picture of a funny barking dog. If it tries to call out of your system you should get suspicious. Why does a funny graphic program need to make a call? What is it going to let in through the back door it has opened? Where is it trying to go? What's it doing? Why? You don't know, but you know it shouldn't be making calls, and a firewall does two things:
* It lets you know that a call is being made.
* It lets you stop the call.
Also if someone or some program tries to hack your ports from the outside, the firewall will let you stop that too.
There are commercial firewalls available which are very good. Symantec (Norton) and McAfee make them, as well as many others. This is the second most important area in Internet security, and if you want to you could buy a commercial firewall.
However, unlike virus software, which requires constant updating as viruses change and mutate in addition to new ones coming out all the time, the job of a firewall is pretty much the same from day to day. There's no reason to suspect that a firewall which works today won't be working just as well in five years time, especially if you update it every now and then.
There are perfectly good free firewalls out there, so there is no need to spend money here unless security is vital or you need access to a help desk.The firewall I use is called Outpost. It's a commercial package, but it has a free version that does the job.
Pop Up Ad remover
Pop up ads are not a danger except to your sanity. I use a program called NoAds to zap them off my screen. I have to add each ad to the database as I come across it. In the couple of months I've been using it, I've added 106 individual ads to the list. If each of those were to come up 5 times, then that's 500 zapped ads. Best of all, it's free.
My email box is filling up with spam, with at least ten messages a day from diet fads, loan merchants, Nigerian millionaires and fake diploma printers. A spam filter detects and marks or deletes spam email messages so I don't have to look at them. It saves me time and annoyance.
There are some good commercial filters for between 20 and 40 dollars, and I was tempted to buy one because the people who send spam are constantly moving around and trying different angles of "attack," and updates are required.
However, I found a free filter which uses lists that are compiled and updated by nice people for free. SpamPal is a free windows spam scanner that sits in between your firewall and your email program and checks the incoming mail. If it finds a spam message, it puts the word **Spam** into the subject line. I then have Eudora (My email program) put these into a special spam mailbox so I don't have to care about them.
SpamPal has a "Whitelist" so you can be sure that your friends' mail will get through, even if they write from a suspect address. It also has a "Blacklist" so that you can add your own sites to the addresses that you don't wish to hear from. You can even add entire countries.
It probably won't get everything, but, if it gets 85 percent of the spam while letting legitimate email through, then it's good enough. Best of all, it's free.
There are commercial spam scanners, most of which work by scanning messages looking for words like "Free" "Offer" "Buy" "Health" or "Money". These probably work just as well.
There is another popular program called MailWasher. What it does is retrieve the email information (size, sender, subject, etc) without actually downloading it to your Inbox. You then have the option of deleting, bouncing, and/or blacklisting the email, or just leaving it alone for it to go into your Inbox.
There are two versions of MailWasher: free and pro. The free version works with just one POPmail account, but the pro version works with an unlimited number of POPmail and Hotmail accounts. This software is immensely popular and useful - the downside to that is the pro version now costs $29.95.
Child Protection Software
These programs act like a firewall and block access to web sites that children shouldn't see, such as porn site. No children use my PC, so I don't use one of these. In addition, I'm against censorship and figure that if your kids are old enough to want to look at rude pictures then they're old enough to find a way to do it whatever precautions you might take. I've never been really interested in rude pictures myself, but others will feel differently.
I can't advise on the best types because I don't use them myself, but, if you need this kind of service, you will need to pay for it since constant updates are required to block the latest suspect sites.
Systems that I've heard of include NetNanny, CyberSitter and SurfWatch.
This site answers some common questions about this type of software: http://www.peacefire.org/info/blocking-software-faq.html
Here is a directory listing the different filtering services known to Google.
It's a big, strange, dangerous net out there, and there are stupid people who want to destroy your data, infuriate you, and sell you things. Let the surfer beware!