Security Issues

by Frank B. Stevenson
MouseWorks Tech Support

After helping clients deal with issues resulting from attacks on their computers, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss a few things about computer security.

First, in case you have not heeded the warnings that you have probably heard before, BACK UP your important data files. You can back up to floppy disks, CDs, tape, another computer, another hard drive, or even a backup service on the internet; but the main point is to back up your important files to some secondary location often enough to save you if something goes wrong! We back up our data files every day to secondary machines, and I often cut CD's with backup copies of our files.

Second, if you receive and handle e-mail, you must have an anti-virus program running on your machine scanning both incoming and outgoing mail. This is also true if you open files on your computer supplied to you by others (including opening files from a network you share with others. There are days that we receive infected messages, one after another, sometimes as many as fifty in a day. Fortunately, our anti-virus programs catch them and never let them infect our machines or propagate across our network or back out through the e-mail.

Third, for our clients that are using cable or DSL connections (where the internet connection is always on), there is a different type of problem. There are people out there that have nothing better to do than to see where they can get into other peoples' computers. If you have a local network (two or more computers connected together to share files and printers, called Local Area Networks or LANs), you can see how one user can access the files on the other computers on the network. High-speed access systems like Cox, Comcast, and other cable systems, as well as DSL connections through the phone companies, are simply larger networks (Wide Area Networks or WANs) that can allow outside users to see into your computer if you are not careful.

Firewalls are software or hardware systems that can protect you from outside attacks. It is imperative that you use some form of firewall if you are connected to one of these internet access systems. For dial-up connections this is much less of a problem and there are protections built in to some of these services. Plus you disconnect often enough to avoid those predators out there looking for access into other computers.

After saying this, I must confess to a potential weakness I discovered on our system. We are networked behind a router, a device that offers a hardware firewall system right out of the box. I have never had a problem with hackers, although I have no doubt they have been at our door trying to get in. I realized that if you try to get into our network from the outside, the router intercepts the intrusion but offers the intruder the ability to "log in." If you leave the settings of your router in the default configuration, the administration of the router could be opened to the outside if the intruder enters the default user name and default password. Then access can be achieved to the rest of the network! Be sure to go in and change these default settings in your router so it will indeed protect your computer.

That's it for now, but contact us if you have any questions about securing your computer or network.


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