Monday, October 6, 2008

Home Computing Security

In past issues of Gracious Times Newsletter, I stressed the importance of safety online and steps to take to help prevent or minimize identity theft. In this article I will continue in this vein of thought but deal with programs on your computer to help with safety. While at a sister’s (Sister in Christ) home over the weekend, the topic for this issue’s Web Byte came to me as her computer was totally unprotected and vulnerable to attacks after the expiration of her anti-virus software suite. My sister did not know about a computer firewall or its need to be operable. Because of this, here is this month’s Web Byte.

Home Computing Security
As an underwriter I learned a firewall was a physical device that stopped or slowed down a fire from spreading to other buildings. A computer firewall operates in the same fashion. It is software or hardware that verifies information coming from the Internet or a network to your computer and in some cases information leaving your computer and prevents or permits it through based on the selected settings of the firewall. Only one firewall software program can be protecting a computer at a time. The firewall that is included software from the factory is turned off while third-party firewall software is running. Once this third-party software is turned off, either because of contract expiration or manually, the computer is no longer protected. To again protect your computer with the Windows firewall software, you need to turn this feature on again. This can be easily done by accessing your Control Panel. Click on Start, then Control Panel, and select the Security Center icon. This action would show the firewall as being off and have a note stating “Windows does not detect a firewall”. Next you would click on the recommendations in the same box with the firewall option. When the Recommendation window opens you would click “enable now”, click Okay and the Recommendation window will close placing you back on the Security Center screen. This action will display a message “Windows firewall was successfully turned on”, click Close. Your firewall will once again be operable. You can also go to the Windows Firewall icon and turn it on there. While in the Security Center, there is also a resource box with topics to educate you on security. Additionally, there is a link to keep you abreast on what’s new to protect your computer.

The firewall alone is not complete protection. Nothing can protect your computer 100 % if it is connected to the Internet or a network. Matter of fact, in a knowledge base article by Microsoft (Microsoft, 2006) and National Cyber Alert System (2007) it states what Windows firewall software would not protect against are viruses and spyware. Based on this, you still need anti-virus and spyware programs. In addition to the security suite I have running on my computer I also use a free downloadable program that scans my computer for spyware which works quite well. Of course, like any other housekeeping task you have to run these programs periodically for them to do their job.

Added protection is gleaned from the firewall hardware feature in wire or wireless routers used in home networking and the broadband gateways from cable and DSN modems. If at all possible set up a hardware firewall also…two layers of protection is better than one.

Regular maintenance of your computer includes running the utilities on your computer such as disk defragment (this may take several hours) and disk cleanup as well as setting your computer to either receive automatic updates for any changes to the operating system and office programs or visit the update center often. Also, deleting files and programs no longer used, disconnect unused network connections, backup important files and folders and strong passwords (see useful links below). These housekeeping tasks will help you minimize computer vulnerability and increase usability of your computer. While in the Control Panel, you can schedule the disk defragment and disk cleanup utilities to run automatically through the “Scheduled Tasks” folder.

I pray this information was of interest and help to you and again, please send computing topics that you would like to see written about in Web Bytes to webbytesblog@yahoo.com. For those interested in more information on this topic, see “Useful links” below.

Thank you for your patronage and I look forward to receiving topics to research that titillate and illuminate all my readers as a whole, instead of me in particular. Thanks again, folks!


Some Useful Links on the Topic
www.firewallguide.com
www.freebyte.com
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/networking/security/winfirewall.mspx
http://www.microsoft.com/protect/computer/firewall/faq.mspx
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/setup/maintain/default.mspx
http://computer.howstuffworks.com/firewall.htm (This article is a little more technical)
http://www.cert.org/homeusers/HomeComputerSecurity/#6 (Strong Password)

References
Microsoft (August 15, 2006). Using Windows Firewall. http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/networking/security/winfirewall.mspx

National Cyber Alert. (February 28, 2007). Cyber Security Tip – ST04-004 Understanding Firewalls. http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST04-004.html


2 comments:

Frances said...

This is excellent. A lot of people are not aware of the this stuff and this will help them. I sent this to my son and Ms. MaClarty in Jamaica and my daughter in Brooklyn.

AvaByGrace said...

Hi Frances;
Glad to be of service. Please visit often and any comments, suggestions and/or criticisms are welcome. This is how we learn.

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