Back to Parents' Voices Suggestions for Safe Computing

Suggestions for Safe Computing

Any computer connected to the Internet is vulnerable to attack by various kinds of hostile programs. Most common are email viruses and programs that attack vulnerabilities in a computer's operating system (such as Windows). Given the vast number of threats, anyone who connects an unprotected computer to the Internet is highly likely to find their computer compromised very quickly. Many of the new viruses and worms turn your computer into remotely controllable spam servers, clearly not something that you want to happen. So with that as background, here are some suggestions to help you keep your computer safe:

  1. Update Your Operating System
    An operating system is the basic program that runs all the time on your computer. If you run Windows, that's your operating system. Others include OS9 and OSX for the Macintosh, as well as Linux. Microsoft and Apple publish security updates to their products frequently. For Windows users, running Windows Update is the single most important step in keeping your computer safe.

    • Windows Users: Windows Update
    • Macintosh Users: Go to Apple menu, then select "Software Update"

  2. Anti-Virus Software
    Every computer needs up-to-date anti-virus software. The threat is simply staggering. One anti-virus vendor reports protecting against over 40,000 Windows viruses, almost 8,000 Microsoft Office macro viruses, over 5,000 script viruses (VB and JavaScript), over 2,000 batch or command file viruses, and almost 43,000 other destructive programs. That's almost 100,000 virus or virus-like threats. And more are written everyday. Remember, it's not enough to have anti-virus software installed and running. You must keep it up-to-date with a subscription.


  3. Firewall
    If you connect to the Internet with a dial-up modem, you should use a firewall software program. Users of Windows XP can enable the Internet connection firewall that comes with Windows. You can also purchase a commercial program such as BlackICE or ZoneAlarm. These programs all work to do the same thing: they prevent unsolicited communications from outside your computer from reaching it. Firewalls are the second line of defense against programs that attack operating system vulnerabilities. (The first line of defense is updating your operating system itself.)

    If you connect to the Internet using broadband (cable mode, DSL, or other high-speed, always on connection), you are better off using a hardware firewall. Most new broadband modems include a built-in firewall. Like a software firewall, the hardware firewall blocks unsolicited incoming traffic, which prevents worms and other malicious programs running on other computers from attacking your computer and compromising it.

November 18, 2003

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