Pastfinders Computer Users' Group

September 19, 2002

Pastfinders met at 7 PM on September 19, 2002 at the Cooper Memorial Library. Five members were there. The meeting started with a review of what we had covered in our meetings of Jan through April of this year with handouts taken from our web page where those meetings are fully covered. Suggestions were requested for directions to go in future programs. One joint effort for the future will be to clean up Pastfinders' Home page. Suggestions to that end were requested from the group for our next meeting.

The following is the major subject of the meeting.

Internet Security

Viruses, Worms, Spyware and Hoaxes


The Internet is not a safe place. But it’s only as unsafe as you allow your computer to be. With the right precautions, most any computer can withstand the onslaught of computer hackers. So what are the problems?


Definitions

Viruses: A program or piece of code that is loaded onto your computer without your knowledge and runs against your wishes. Viruses can also replicate themselves. All computer viruses are manmade. A simple virus that can make a copy of itself over and over again is relatively easy to produce. Even such a simple virus is dangerous because it will quickly use all available memory and bring the system to a halt. An even more dangerous type of virus is one capable of transmitting itself across networks and bypassing security systems.


Worms: A program or algorithm that replicates itself over a computer network and usually performs malicious actions, such as using up the computer's resources and possibly shutting the system down.


Spyware: Programs that report back to the owner where you have been on the Internet. They are attached to software you install and are added without your knowledge unless you read the privacy statement of the manufactures.


Hoaxes: Emails that describe a new threat and require you to pass it on to everyone that you know.


Hackers: Hackers are people who will try to break into your computer and attempt to steal passwords, bank accounts, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers.


Details

Viruses are almost contained in an attachment to an email. Don’t ever open an attachmentis often is given as advice and it is the safest way to operate. However, the benefit of seeing family pictures, getting copies of genealogical data and other considerations make for creating exceptions to the rule. Most virus messages are taken from the infected persons computer and have no relevance. Don’t open attachments to those kinds of email. But a message like “Hey Mom, here are some new pictures of the kids.” gives somewhat more confidence that the email is legitimate. But be cautious.

The best protection is an antivirus program but that is no better than the most recent “virus definition” file to keep it up to date. And since viruses almost all take advantage of security holes in Microsoft Explorer and Outlook and Outlook Express, updating Windows, IE and OE for update patches makes sense. It also makes sense to move to a non-Microsoft mail program such as Eudora.

Once you are infected (because you didn’t take the advise above) and have spread the virus to everyone in your address book, there are ways to get rid of it. Trend Micro has a free program called Housecall. Run that program but you have to be on the Internet to do it and could be sending the virus to a lot more former friends. Symantic has a program to check for and eliminate the KLEZ virus. It’s a small program and it can be can be downloaded from Symantic. It’s best to download it before you need it and then you won’t have to go on line to de-KLEZ your computer.


Some viruses hide in your machine and then “phone home”. To prevent your computer from calling out and sending information to the virus programmer, a firewall that blocks out going calls that you don’t authorize. Zone Alarm is a free program from Zone Labs and it will prevent hackers from getting into your machine, it will stop viruses from calling out and will quarentine suspicious mail attachments. Get it from Zone Labs. You can pay for the Pro version or just use the free one. It does everything that you want.


Worms should be treated the same as viruses and all of the above advice applies to them as well.


Spyware is not easy to prevent from getting on your computer unless you never download anything or open greeting cards. Those beautiful free “To a Wonderful Friend” greetings that you get are paid for by collecting your Internet browsing habits. The next time you get one, get the company name and go to their web site and read their “Privacy Policy’. You’ll find that they are probably part of a consortium of many companies that report your visit to a central data base. While you can’t always prevent it, you can eliminate Spyware with any of several programs with Ad-Aware being one of the best of the free ones. .


Hoaxes. Totally and absolutely unnecessary for anyone to EVER, EVER forward a virus warning especially without checking it out. Remember, when you choose to forward a message, you assume responsibility for it’s contents. When I get a message from you, I hold you responsible for what it says and not the originator that I don’t even know. Nobody is going to try to warn the world about a new virus by sending out emails that have to be forwarded and forwarded and forwarded. If you go back and look at the original message, it may have been sent one or two weeks ago but everyone still panics and sends it along as though it were news. Go to this site to check it out here . If ever in doubt, go to Google and type in the name of the virus. Choose from dozens of ways to learn about it.


Hackers. Your computer has many “ports” that a hacker can test to see if they are open. One way to find what your status is is to go to Steve Gibson’s site . You can try any of Steve’s free test but be sure to run Shields Up to check your vulnerability and check out Probe My Ports while you are there. Take some time to read about Internet security. No one knows more about it than Steve. If you flunk the test then do as we advised under viruses and down load Zone Labs Zone Alarm free firewall and then check back with Steve and run Shields Up and Probe My Ports again. You’ll feel much safer.

Firewalls are imperative if you have a cable or DSL connection, but the protection that they bring to dial-up as well for no cost brings piece of mind while you surf the web.


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