Archive for August, 2009

Firewalls Explained

Monday, August 24th, 2009

A firewall is like a brick wall between your computer and the Internet. ¬†Its main purpose is to protect your computer from attackers on the Internet by blocking services that you don’t use. ¬†For those that you do use, you have to punch a hole in the firewall. ¬†This hole allows you to use the Internet like normal with the services that you use. ¬†For instance, you punch a whole so you can check your email, so you can surf to a website, or use an Instant Messenger. ¬†There are two common types of firewalls.

1. Hardware firewall (recommended) РThis is a physical device that you connect between your computer and Internet connection.  The most basic and most common hardware firewall is a router.  For the average use this is all that is needed.  The router works as a firewall by dropping anything trying to go from the outside to the inside unless a request was made from the inside first.  This requires no configuration on your part.  There are more advanced firewalls such as the Astaro gateway and software that you put on a spare computer such as SmoothWall.  These allow for much more configuration and options.

2. Software Firewall Рthis is software that you install on your computer.  It works in a way similar to the hardware firewall, but it does it all inside of your computer.  This kind of firewall adds the additional protection of asking you what kind of traffic you want going out of your computer.  But, this could also be somewhat annoying because it pops up a window asking if you want to allow a certain program to access the Internet.  Software firewalls can also be easily turned off by viruses and other malware (bad software).  All modern Operating Systems come with software firewalls built in.  After Windows XP SP2 the software firewall in windows XP is on by default.  The same is true for windows Vista and windows 7 when it comes out.  You can turn the firewall on in OS X in the System Preferences.  It is not a bad idea to have the software firewall turned on for a couple of reasons.  If a computer on your home network (if you have more than one computer at home) is infected with a virus it could potentially spread to other computers on your home network even if you have a hardware firewall because all of the computers would be on the inside of the firewall.  It is also a good idea to have your software firewall on when you bring your laptop to other networks for this same reason.

-Zach

The number one most important thing to do

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

The most important thing that I can recommend to keep you safe on the Internet is to update, update and update.  It is very important that you keep your computer up-to-date.  Many of the updates for your Operating System (Window or Mac OS X) are security updates.  These updates fix problems that could potentially allow an attacker into your computer.  Without the update you are pretty much wide open.  So, whenever you see that little yellow shield in the system tray (the area next to the clock in the lower right hand corner) on Windows XP, or the Software Update window appear on a mac, you should make sure to install the updates.

Many people claim that the updates have messed up their computer in the past. ¬†My response, it is better to update your computer and have a problem than to get a virus or be attacked in some other way because you didn’t update. ¬†Usually a problem due to an update will be fixed quickly, whereas removing a virus is usually a difficult process.

You don’t need to just update your Operating System. ¬†You also need to make sure that your Anti-viruses, spyware scanners and other software are updated. ¬†Your anti-virus and spyware scanners are useless against new viruses unless you keep them updated. ¬†Other software can have security flaws that make you more vulnerable as well, so it is important to keep all of your software updated.

Two phone calls lead to a new blog idea

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

In the past couple of days I have had two phone calls from people saying, “HELP, my computer is infected with hundreds of trojans and viruses.” Both, of course, were fake sites posing as an antivirus telling people to download their software to fix the problem. Both people clicked the button to remove (which is also the download button), and became suspicious. Then they both called me. The fix, simply close the window and everything is back to normal.

These fake AntiViruses are popping up all over the Internet these days and are fooling many. This leads me to my new blog idea. The average person has no idea (or very little) how to be secure on the Internet. My new blog will be for these people. Every so often I plan on writing a new article addressing one security problem on the Internet and what to do about it. I would also like to answer any questions that people have about Internet Security, so if you have any send them my way.

~Zach