Security 101

Why should you care about security?

Cyber crime has become one of today’s greatest problems. Every week we hear about credit card data being stolen from businesses or a government agency “misplacing” computer equipment which contains classified information, or even worse, sensitive information about you! While it might be difficult for you to prevent these actions from occurring, there are many ways to protect your computer and your data.

The basics.

Let us define several terms:

  • Virus: Computer code that has the ability to replicate.
  • Worm: Computer code that has the ability to replicate and spread between computers without any interaction from you.
  • Trojan: Computer code that stealthily monitors your computer and can send your user name, password and personal data to a third party.
  • Spyware: Software that monitors your activities and reports them to a third party.
  • Bot networks: Groups of machines that have been compromised and are carrying out instructions from a third party without the owner’s knowledge or consent.
  • Firewall: An application that restricts who and what can access your computer remotely.
  • Intrusion prevention: The process of detecting and blocking attempts to compromise your computer or the data that resides on it.
  • Anti-virus: An application that detects and blocks the installation of a number of malicious threats, including viruses, worms, trojans, spyware and others.

The solution.

There are many solutions that address pieces of the problem; however the best solution includes two core components: user education and a security suite.

User education primarily consists of several rules:

  • If you are not expecting an attachment, do not open it.
  • If you do not know the sender, do not open it.
  • If the message or website looks suspicious, do not open it.

Often times a worm attempts to spread by exploiting our personal relationships. Once a worm infects a machine, it has access to that user’s data including their address book. The most common way for a worm to replicate is by emailing itself to people listed in the address book. It configures the email so that it appears to be from your friend…hoping that you will let your guard down and open the message or click on a malicious link thus causing your computer to become infected. By following the three rules above and simply being aware of today’s threats you can increase your vigilance in protecting your data and your computer.

To complement user education, a security suite is highly recommended. There are many to choose from. Ensure that the software you select includes these components:

  • Anti-virus
  • Anti-spyware
  • Anti-spam
  • Firewall
  • Intrusion Prevention

Our personal favorite is Norton 360 from Symantec. It provides all of the core components above, plus many others. Other popular consumer products come from McAfee, Trend Micro and Zone Labs.

VERY IMPORTANT: You must keep your security suite up-to-date. This means renewing your products or the subscription each year and allowing the product to update itself each day your computer is used. This is how security products are made aware of new threats to your computer.