Bars on your Windows
February 13, 2004
Discuss High Tech
It is almost impossible to work
in a high-tech career today without being deeply involved with Microsoft
Windows. Whether you are a developer, a user or a consultant
to other users, there a several things you need to do to keep everything
working smoothly. Doing so, and maintaining it regularly, is a sure way
to improve you own high-tech life, that of your clients and your own high-tech
career. For those of you just starting out, here are a few hints to insure
that you and your clients are getting the most from your computer everyday.
Batten down the hatches
Whenever I begin working with a new client I always start by checking
several items. First, have they downloaded and applied all available Windows
Updates for their system. These updates are the single most important
part of any protection and maintenance plan. In many cases, they can prevent
your machine from being attacked and/or infected by the wide variety of
Windows exploits out there today. Malicious programs usually make use
of well-known bugs and exploits in Windows. If you have updated your machine
completely, these programs have to resort to more complicated and less
successful methods of infecting your machine.
Do whatever you must to insure that these updates get installed on a timely
basis. In some cases, you can turn on automatic checking and notification
for these updates. Under Windows XP, you can even instruct Windows to
check, download and install updates automatically. It is only recently
that I began configuring automatic updates for my clients. I tended to
worry about the problems a bad update might cause. In reality, though,
the effects of a virus or spyware infection far outweigh those of a bad
Kills bugs dead
Your second line of defense is an anti-virus program. Before you send
the first email or browse your first web page make sure your anti-virus
software is installed and updated. Too often, I see client's computers
where the anti-virus software was originally installed, but has never
been updated. While this would protect the user against older viruses,
it leaves them vulnerable to every new threat that comes along. Again,
most anti-virus programs have the ability to check and update themselves
automatically and I highly recommend configuring the software in this
Avoid the Trojan horse
Another important aspect to consider is protection against Trojan horse
programs and spyware applications. These programs masquerade as something
useful, but hide a nefarious purpose within. My favorite program for removing
and preventing these installations is Spy-Bot by PepiMK Software. (http://safer-networking.org/).
This free program discovers and removes over 10,000 different spyware
applications. Better still, Spybot can immunize your computer from being
infected again by these programs.
Another well-known program is Ad-Aware by Lavasoft. (http://www.lavasoftusa.com/)
Ad-Aware comes in free and commercial versions.
Firewall software helps to prevent attacks through your Internet connection.
There are a host of programs on the Internet that systematically search
for computers with unpatched security holes or vulnerable configurations.
In many cases, these programs attempt to turn your computer into a “zombie”
that can be used to launch other attacks or act as a spam server to send
Both Windows and Mac OS X come with basic firewall software pre-configured.
In most cases, this software is sufficient to protect your computer against
the majority of attacks currently in operation. That said, the addition
of a firewall package such as ZoneAlarm, (http://www.zonelabs.com/) can
offer an extended level of protection. Most importantly, ZoneAlarm can
monitor and report on suspicious outgoing Internet traffic. This can point
up software that is attempting to “phone home” to its manufacturer
or perhaps software that is forwarding your personal information or browsing
habits to a third party.
Stop the spam
In order to allow their email to be as useful as possible, most people
need some form of anti-spam software. Some email programs may include
built-in spam filters, but there are also a host of standalone programs
to assist you. One possibility is No Spam Today! By Paessler. (http://www.no-spam-today.com/)
Anti-spam programs don’t prevent you from receiving spam, but they
can help you to manage it. In most cases, the anti-spam program looks
at each message and, through various methods, decides on the probability
that the message is spam. Suspected spam is then funneled to a special
folder, while good mail is sent to your Inbox. The systems aren’t
perfect, though, and do require you to at least glance at the spam folder
to see if there are any useful messages.
If you install and maintain software for these 5 areas of concern, I can
guarantee that your problems, and those of your clients will be few and
far between. Using the benefits of automation allows you to focus on using
your computer instead of constantly repairing damaged caused by malicious
programs. Protecting your clients at this most basic level can go a long
way towards insuring a long and happy high-tech career.