Author: Yogi Schulz
Keeping your personal computer working smoothly under the onslaught of spyware, spam, pop-ups and viruses is becoming increasingly challenging. The tools to combat these nuisances are becoming more robust and sophisticated. Unfortunately, the associated effort is increasing to more than a nuisance. It’s now a major time-waster.
Your personal computer now requires regular attention just like your lawn in summer and your sidewalks in winter. Here are some ideas to minimize the hassle.
Viruses can be effectively combated by installing anti-virus software and by keeping the virus definitions up-to-date through a subscription service. The leading suppliers include McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro.
Anti-virus software has limitations. Sometimes the software can only recognize a virus but not fully remove it. In this case, have a professional perform the removal instructions because they are usually quite involved and are easily misread.
Wiping out spyware is technically difficult. The leading suppliers are Ad-Aware and Spybot-S&D. While I strongly recommend using these products, recognize that they have limitations.
Watch out for bogus anti-spyware products that are actually spyware. There are also a large number of unsatisfactory products being offered. Sorry, but the Internet can be a hazardous place.
Do not click on buttons in e-mails that purport to come from your bank, PayPal or Microsoft. These organizations do not ask you to provide information or confirm anything in this manner. Such e-mails install spyware on your PC or steal your identity.
A good policy for avoiding spyware is to stringently control downloads from the Internet to your PC. When the Security Warning dialogue box comes up asking for permission to download a file, only Click Yes when you’re familiar with the organization name shown.
Pop-Ups are the annoying windows that pop-up uninvited when you’re surfing the Web. Various pop-up blockers are substantially effective. I use the Google Toolbar.
Keeping your operating system and Internet Explorer up-to-date with patches published by Microsoft also helps to control pop-ups.
Reducing E-mail Spam
Turn on the anti-spam defenses of your e-mail software. In Outlook 2003, navigate to Tools >Options >Preferences >Junk Mail >Options. I’ve set my filter to High. I have not experienced any legitimate mail being tagged as Spam in error. You can check for this misidentification problem by scrolling through the messages that accumulate in your Junk E-mail folder.
By previewing your incoming mail using the Web interface to your e-mail, you can wipe out all spam before it harms you. The problem with this approach is that it adds more effort to managing your e-mail.
When spam appears in your Inbox (some spam will invariably escape the clutches of the spam filter), right-click the message and then left-click Junk E-mail and left-click Add Sender to Blocked Senders list. That will be the last time a message from that sender will annoy you.
It’s also necessary to occasionally clean out the Junk E-mail folder by left-clicking the Junk E-mail folder and selecting Delete. If you have not checked for Outlook updates in a while navigate to Help > Check for Updates. This will ensure that you’re using Microsoft’s latest updates which include a spam filter improvement.
Disciplining Your Behavior
Quite a different approach to controlling many of these problems relies on disciplining your behavior. You must avoid dubious web sites, resist the temptation to participate in surveys, contests and “free” offers and never download screen savers. All of these behaviors greatly increase the likelihood that you will introduce various problems to your PC.
Keeping Hackers at Bay
Hackers are generally bored by the typical data on your personal computers and the lack of challenge associated with scanning your hard drive remotely through the Internet. Banks and government facilities, because they’re generally well guarded, are much more appealing to hackers.
However, their less sophisticated cousins, the script kiddies, are not so discerning. Since using a hardware firewall is cheap protection against both, I recommend installing a basic firewall router combination. The leading suppliers for home and small business are D-Link, Linksys and Netgear.
Be sure to test your firewall configuration from www.grc.com. From this web site, you can simulate a small hacker attack on yourself and receive a report on how well your firewall is functioning.
Software firewalls such as the one that comes with Microsoft XP SP2 or from ZoneAlarm offer an additional level of firewall protection that is often unnecessary. These programs also introduce another level of operational complexity.
The following web page lists specific actions you can take to reduce your vulnerability to the problems I’ve described above: www.microsoft.com/security/default.mspx. Similar pages can be found at McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro.
If you’d like to receive a list of web links to the suppliers listed in this article, please send me an e-mail.
Reducing E-mail Spam
How to Trim the “Spam” from Your E-Mail DietTips for Reducing and Managing Junk E-Mail
MailWasher – MailWasherwww.mailwasher.net
Disciplining Our Behavior
Keeping Hackers at Bay
TrendNet Cable/DSL Advanced VPN Firewall Routerhttp://www.neticamall.com/P_1300.htm
Understanding Security and Privacyhttp://channels.netscape.com/ns/browsers/security.jsp
Home PC Firewall Guidehttp://www.firewallguide.com/
Understanding Windows Firewallhttp://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/security/internet/sp2_wfintro.mspx