Protecting your home and small-business computer from crackers

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Protecting your home and small-business computer from crackers

There is increasing concern about attacks on computers, with the commercial losses from attacks being in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This has led to concern among many people about how to protect their computers, even at home, from evil attackers, with the evil falling into two general categories: Malicious viruses, and crackers taking over your computer while you are connected to the internet and either stealing data from it or using it as a site participating in denial of service attacks. As with any scary statistic, it is a good idea to look a bit closer at the numbers to see how much risk you face.

For a start, in one recent study about 45 percent of all commercial losses were from unauthorized insider activities. The home equivalent would be a child deliberately erasing something on your hard drive. About 30 percent of the losses were losses of proprietary information, much of which is sold or given away by insiders. Some was from outsiders, who need little more than a browser to get proprietary information off your web site. About 15 percent was be telecom fraud, and about 7% was from viruses. The rest was stolen equipment, outside crackers, denial of service attacks, and the like.

What does this tell us? It tells us that our biggest concern should be having a good anti-virus program that you keep up to date! The better programs allow you to get updates from the Internet, and this author checks for updates daily.

You should also look to see what is used to transmit viruses. At this time, many virus-developers use Microsoft Outlook to transmit viruses. While Outlook is a fine program, this author has moved to Eudora for email, thus sidestepping the problem, at least until virus developers start using Eudora.

You should also check for security updates on a regular basis. Microsoft regularly puts updates online that deal with security problems. These should be installed when available.

How about something like a personal firewall, which makes your computer invisible when connected to the internet? In theory the likelihood of needing a firewall if you are connected via modem is somewhere between slim to none, and slight if you are connected via a DSL line or cable modem. On the other hand, slim is not the same as nonexistent, and good personal firewalls vary between inexpensive to ZoneAlarm, which is available for download free for personal use (http://www.zonelabs.com/). Firewalls are easy to install, and, once running, are unobtrusive. Not to install a firewall is foolish.

Most important of all, however, is protecting your data by regular backups. With the arrival of Zip and Jaz drives, even large amounts of data can be conveniently backed up. This author uses a program called Back Again (http://www.cds-inc.com/), which is one of a number of good backup programs available for home and small business use. The current approach is a full backup of all data and other important files, then, at 5 A.M., the program automatically does an incremental backup of everything changed on the computer since the last incremental backup. When the Zip disk containing the incremental backup gets full, a new full backup is done, and the cycle starts over. In addition, a copy backup is done daily, and carried when leaving. This means that even if the building burns down all the data is safe.

Finally, a number of companies provide encrypted storage online. Some, such as X-Drive provide some amount of free storage, with more being available at a nominal cost. The virtue of this is that you have access to the data from anyplace where you have internet access.

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