Last year we published an article on securing a cable modem. In the few months since that article, new threats to computer security have arisen. Previously a hardware and/or software firewall coupled with anti-virus protection was sufficient. New threats have arisen from programs that are installed by mere visits to web pages. Recommendations for securing a mobile or home-office computer will be discussed along with some key strategies for protecting us from some new threats that are beyond viral.
A two-tiered approach to security is advisable. First, a hard firewall, as simple as a router can harden you defenses against nefarious efforts to access your computer network. At CentralLaw.com we use a simple device manufactured by LinkSys. It comes in a variety of flavors both wired and wireless. Key point here with the wireless variant is to enable password protection of the device and change the default password. Those with wireless mobile access and nothing better to do play a fairly common game – “war driving.” Contestants cruise the streets of Metropolis searching for unprotected wireless networks or networks whose passwords and username were never changed from the manufacturers’ default settings. Once a wireless connection is found, the players have access to your Internet connection, possibly to you data, and possibly to your office network.
Second, a software firewall is quite useful. They are frequently and often automatically updated and can respond to threats developed after the installation of the hard firewall. Heuristic or artificially intelligent firewalls are available. At CentralLaw.com we use ZoneAlarm. This new generation of protection enables a permission based security system that learns about the user’s legitimate accesses to the network and affirmatively requests permission from the user before allowing a program or process to access a protected computer. The program is trained to learn how and what legitimate users do on the protected computer. The program will log, alarm, and identify the evil-doer, and prevent the wicked from wandering.
Recently, one morning ZoneAlarm caught and blocked a suspicious effort to access a computer resource in our office. The artificially intelligent software firewall noted viral activity that had not previously been permitted by our systems’ users. Later that day, the media publicized the latest viral attack on the world’s computers and suggested users go to their anti-virus software and update it. We followed the advice, but were already protected from a threat. Since anti-virus and/or system software vendors had not yet responded to the attack, we would have been vulnerable.
While programs usually run and are visible to users in the taskbar along the bottom of your computer screen, spyware installs itself in your operating system and its effects are not noticed until a computer’s internet access has slowed, a browser home page has been changed, a new search bar appears, or myriad other odd symptoms surface. We use a two-tiered approach here also. AdAware from LavaSoft and SpyBot Search and Destroy are a one-two punch to knock out these veiled threats.
Computer networks, like chains, are only as strong as the weakest link. Make sure all machines accessing your network are secured with the latest operating system updates. Some system updates have file sizes that require hours to download by a telephone dial-up connection. The masses use dial up, virtually guaranteeing that these updates will not be installed on those computers. Consequently, new threats propagate from throngs of unprotected computers. Take the time to assure that all computers under your control or terminals that have access to your network are regularly keeping pace with these updates. Recovering compromised data from even a single destroyed hard disk drive begins at around $5,000.00 per disk drive and it is not uncommon for data to be unrecoverable.