Virus & Security Alert

The Internet is a wonderful place to quickly share information from one part of the world to another. As the popularity and usage grows, it becomes even more important for web users to be more aware of the events surrounding them especially when they are online. The increase in virus distribution is probably the single biggest problem well exceeding the troubles caused by spam (unsolicitated junk emails), hackers, firewall/router breaches, and denial-of-service (DOS) attacks on networks, servers, and websites.

The areas of spam, hackers, firewall breaches, and DOS attacks are beyond the scope of this article, but they all deserve a brief mention.

Rules for Email Usage:

Unsolicited emails can be quite annoying, especially when they consume unnecessary internet bandwidth, hard drive storage space, and lots of valuable time. The secret to avoiding spam is simply to follow a few rules when it comes to using your email.

Create more than one email address. Protect one primary email address by using it for certain important functions, for friends and family, and for people you know well. Create a secondary email address (such as the FREE emails from Yahoo, Hotmail, MSN, etc), also called "disposable email addresses" for purposes such as subscribing to newsletters, for communicating with companies, for website URL submission purposes, and for all other discretionary uses.

Search engines (spider robots or bots) and marketing companies constantly probe the internet in search of email addresses for email marketing and distribution purposes. Most often the same email addresses are sold to other marketing companies. Always use your secondary email address when communicating with companies. Should your secondary email address become bombarded with spam, you can easily sign up for a new one, and delete the old address. All this time, your first email address, the one you want to protect, is kept out of the public limelight and away from unscrupulous marketing agendas. Also important to note is that some email providers, such as Yahoo, provide online virus scan of all email attachments. Definitely well worth the FREE cost of having a secondary email address.

Hackers Firewalls DOS Attacks

There is not much an average person can do to avoid hackers from attempting to break into your computer while you are online. The fact is that "if there is a will there is a way". The advanced hacker can get into any computer, network, router, server, and website. They can even watch an unsuspecting user type in passwords into the user's online banking account. Scary it may seem, but its not something that happens very often to individual users. Hackers are really only interested in high profile companies, or networks that are challenging and the payload is high. The reward for breaking into these networks is fame among the hacking community, and the satisfaction of meeting a rewarding challenge.

So as an individual user, all you need to do is exercise prevention and create safeguards to protect yourself. There are a variety of software and hardware firewall products that are relatively inexpensive and quite simple to install. Most firewalls will protect the average user from any average hacker. A few well reputable firewall software you may want to look into is: ZoneAlarm, Norton Internet Security, Black Ice, etc. They are all well worth the cost, and simply better than not having any firewall in the first place. If you are using Windows XP as your operating system, there is a built-in firewall that is enabled by default. Still better than not having a firewall, but still you should look into a more solid primary firewall software beyond the Windows XP firewall. The reason being is that Microsoft products (Windows XP and other operating systems) are prone to having software defects and you definitely don't want to risk it.

There are hardware firewall solutions as well, many of which are built into routers or are standalones. In any event, you should talk to your local computer store for more information and for specific advice.

If you are looking into a firewall solution for your company, it all depends on the size and scope, and the number of computers and servers you need to protect. Hardware firewall solutions are often integrated network routers or servers that are great for protecting the entire office. There are a large number of different solutions, all having their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and costs of setting up.

Call Wetaskiwin Telephones for more information on firewalls or have us recommend a certain solution.

Its important to note, that firewalls, routers, servers, and networks can be protected like fortresses, but too much of a good thing can also be bad in that it restricts certain types of activities or it introduces unknown variables.

Also, the technology of firewalls have been around for many years, some of which may in fact be out-of-date, prone to outages, create intermittent network problems, internal cache issues, and all of them potentially making it very easily breached. Always update your firewall solution, whether its software or hardware, to the latest and newest technologies. The Internet Security community has found that there are more open ports on a firewall then they had previously known before. This makes it easy for advanced hackers to go around the firewall, which by default protects only certain known ports. Hackers can also remotely overload a network firewall/router and in the process disable the entire protective device. Older software firewalls also are prone to obsolescence, so keep them up-to-date as well.

DOS attacks are a hackers attempt at bringing down a network, server or a website so that other people are unable to access them. The DOS attacks can also affect the internet network of your ISP, and all its upstream and downstream networks and providers. DOS attacks are highly advanced, and questions regarding them are well beyond the scope of this article. As an individual user and as a company user, there are no protection against DOS attacks. The only security rests with the individuals own firewall and the company's own network firewall, preventing further interruptions locally. Anything externally beyond that is fair game, and an uncontrollable phenomenon when it comes to the entire internet existence. If you cannot control it, then don't worry about it.

As long as you focus on protecting your own local network or your own local computer, then that is all that is reasonably required. If you feel that your computer or your company network cannot afford to risk even a miniscule percentage of the information to the outside world, then simply cut the system entirely off from the internet. In essence, this equates to putting your computer into Fort Knox, thereby cutting all forms of external communication. But then, if you do this then you might as well close up your business.

Virus Activity

The majority of viruses are distributed by emails, more so than in any other methods combined. The best and only advice on how to avoid getting a computer virus to begin with is prevention and avoidance.

Here are some important virus-prevention tips:

  • Install a virus-protection software and enable the software's automatic virus update function.
  • If available, use the virus software's download protection device, and automatic email scanning.
  • When new viruses come out on the same day that you receive a suspecting email attachment, be aware that sometimes the virus software provider has yet to be made aware of the new virus. This potentially means that your virus software may not be able to detect a brand new virus. So always error on the side of caution, and follow the next few tips below for extra safety.
  • If you receive an email attachment from someone you DO know, have it scanned for viruses.
  • If the email attachment is from someone you DO NOT know, have scanned it for viruses or delete it immediately.
  • Email attachment viruses can come in a variety of file formats (ZIP, PIF, EXE, DOC, etc), but watch especially for suspiciously written email subject lines, and email body messages as possible clues.
  • Some email viruses will pose as legitimate email sender addresses, or it may use your friend's email address. So always be careful and perform a virus scan.
  • If a friend or associate gives you a floppy disk or CD with a program on it, always ask them whether they know if the program is virus free and safe. Have they scanned it for viruses? Do they know anything about where they got the program? In any event, always scan the program anyways as a precautionary measure.
  • Be careful about what you download. Always scan the downloads prior to opening, unzipping, or executing the file. This is done by first downloading the program onto your computer, then scanning the program for potential viruses, and deleting it if a virus is detected. Only if the scan result produces No Virus, and you are absolutely sure that the program is free from virus, then you may proceed to open it.
  • When you purchase a store bought software, make sure the factory seal is not broken.
  • When in doubt, proceed on the side of caution and perform a virus scan at all times. Even if you receive a software program from a friend that claims to be virus free, do yourself a favour and perform a virus scan. Besides a single file virus scan only takes a few seconds, and it will save you a bundle of potential grief.
  • Finally, stay informed. As with any virus or security threat, staying informed about computer viruses is a good defense. Your best source of information about computer viruses is Symantec, McAfee, and right here on Wetaskiwin Telephones' website.

    (Written by Anthony Der - April 2004)