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Internet Security

Your home computer can be easily broken into by an inexperienced cracker (usually called a script-kiddy). CodeThis.com has come up a few safety pointers to help you protect your home computer. You probably don't have something of earth shattering importance, like the security codes to your company's database on your home computer (you don't right?), but you do have information that's important to you (like your bank account numbers or the passwords to your web mail account). Here's how you can make sure your home computer doesn't become some script-kiddy's next victim.

1. Don't trust email. The simplest way for a script-kiddy to get to your computer is through a Trojan hidden in an e-mail attachment. So, if you don't know the person who sent you the e-mail delete it, because even if it looks harmless, the email could be the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. You can make a judgment call and trust your anti-virus software to protect you; but the truth is that there are many different ways to hide a Trojan from your virus scanner. Even worse, new Trojans can be easily assembled by the most novice of programmers and since virus scanners can only detect what they know about, you'll never even see the new ones coming. Even if you know the person who sent the you the e-mail, remember that e-mail can be easily faked. Think about the I Love You virus - it came from someone you knew.

2. Update your virus scanner regularly. While a virus scanner won't catch everything, why make it easier for someone to get a Trojan onto your system? Most anti-virus vendors provide regular updates for their products that allow them to recognize the known Trojans and viruses. If you're up-to-date with your virus updates (like getting regular vaccination shots), there's less chance of something bad happening to you. It's embarrassing when you get caught out by a Trojan or a virus that there were defenses for.

3. Keep your documents safe. If you have confidential information on your system, consider putting your sensitive documents on a removable storage like a zip disk or a re-writeable CD. This way if someone does get onto your computer, they're not going to find anything unless you left the zip disk or CD in the drive. As an added bonus you'll see the drive access light flash every time the documents are accessed. If you're not working with them and the drive is being accessed, maybe it's time to temporarily pull the plug on your internet connection.

4. Avoid Clear text. Most of the information you deal is in clear text. That means if a someone can get to it, they can read it. If you need to send private information on the Internet or store on your personal computer, look into encryption technology. Technology similar to the stuff that protects your credit card number in online transactions can also be used to protect your e-mails and private documents. Check out www.pgpi.org for more information on strong personal encryption.

5. Defend your system. Of course, most of these problems would go away if you didn't connect your computer to the Internet; but what's the point of that? The next best thing is to control the connection and the easiest way to do that is with a personal firewall. The same technology that is designed to protect e-commerce sites has been scaled down to work on your home computer. Personal firewalls (depending on how you configure them) will prevent connections from being established to or from your computer unless you specifically allow them. This way, you can stop crackers from getting in and Trojans from attempting to let someone in. Personal Firewalls can be purchased from a number of vendors such as Symantec or Network Ice. CodeThis.com recommends the home user download a free personal firewall known as Zone Alarm (www.zonelabs.com) and try that out before you commit yourself to a retail product.

6. Check if you're vulnerable. You probably don't have the time to read up on Internet Security and then carefully check your home computer to see if you are vulnerable. Instead, you can get quick (and free) assessments online from Shields Up (located at http://grc.com). Steve Gibson provides a host of security tests. Knowing if you're vulnerable helps you figure out how best to defend yourself.

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