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Keep Your PC Safe!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 10, 2009

My consulting firm, Trinity Consulting, dealt with two intrusions on client networks today. In one case, an intruder stole a password, logged into a web server and added a link to the client’s home page which automatically downloaded a Trojan to the computer of anyone who accessed that page. In the other case, a spammer took over a submission form designed to email responses to the client, and then used the form to send spam.

The spam was relatively innocuous. Changing the way the submission form works put a stop to it. The Trojan was discovered by the client within minutes, but anyone who visited the home page during those few minutes was vulnerable—unless they were running up-to-date anti-virus software.

A Trojan (named for the Greek Trojan Horse) is a type of virus which sneaks into your PC from outside and then “opens the gates”, taking over your PC for its own purposes.

Every computer connected to the Internet needs to sit behind a firewall, and it needs to run a high-rated always-on anti-virus program. In addition, the virus definitions used by the AV program need to be updated regularly. The minimum update frequency should be weekly. If you’re a frequent Internet user, you should update daily. As new threats come out, anti-virus vendors release new definitions so that their software can recognize the threats and take appropriate action. It does little good to run an anti-virus product if you don’t keep its definitions up to date.

Finally, every computer connected to the Internet should periodically run a good anti-spyware or anti-malware program. This software should scan your PC at least once a month. It can catch invasive programs that, while not viruses, can clog up your machine or record how you use it.

To protect my PC, I run McAfee Anti-Virus, Windows Firewall (in addition to our main network firewall appliance), and Webroot’s SpySweeper. I also run LavaSoft’s Adaware occasionally. In addition, to control spam, I take advantage of the settings in SmarterMail (our mail server software, which controls my mail box) and Microsoft Outlook (on my own PC). There are many other fine products which do the same job, and you can even find free software in each category. However, this is one area where I prefer to pay the modest annual fees, to make sure I’m supported by companies that have a vested interest in solving my problems.

The key to keeping control of your computer is multi-layered security. Don’t rely on the fact that you think you visit only “safe” sites. If your PC is a target for hackers, then this is even more true of every significant web site out there, including CatholicCulture.org. If you were to connect to the Internet completely unprotected, your computer would be infected – literally – in seconds.

If you are reading this, you probably take considerable care to keep yourself and your family safe from moral threats on the Internet. Please, take the trouble to make sure you’re safe from computer threats as well.

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