Career Opportunities
A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Bars on your Windows

February 13, 2004

Discuss High Tech Careers

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 system update.

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 way.

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. ( 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. ( 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 unsolicited email.
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, ( 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. (

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.

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