Use firewalls to foil online B&E artists
by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #665 July 23- 29, 2002, High Tech Office
In my neighbourhood, if there's an unlocked door then
expect someone seeking anything valuable inside to open it.
If your computer is connected to the Internet, you're
same situation. Random strangers are going to be checking to see
there is anything valuable out in the open.
I've learned to lock my doors and I've learned to
computer behind a firewall -- hardware or software that acts as a
between my computer and the Internet.
You can quickly check whether your computer has the
of its doors unlocked by surfing over to Gibsons
Research Corporation and running the free Shields
tests. The good news is you may discover you're already protected
If you're connecting to the Net through a corporate
network, you're probably OK. The members of your IT department are
their pay and have a firewall installed for your protection.
If you're using Microsoft's new Windows XP,
built-in Internet connection firewall. Unfortunately, it's not turned
by default. Go to Settings, then Network Connections, select how you
to the Net, click on its Properties, click Advanced, and choose the
to turn on Internet protection. (Couldn't they have made this a bit
And if your home or small office computer or network
to a cable or DSL modem via a router, this may also offer a basic level
firewall protection. You may even have a dedicated hardware firewall,
the $199 Burnaby-built Alphashield.
Any of these sorts of firewalls should hide your
the random probes of hackers checking Net addresses for computers
vulnerable for takeover. But you may still be open to a digital version
of subversion. None of the firewalls mentioned, for instance, offer
protection from software installed on your computer that may, without
your knowledge, be opening your computer and its data.
Sounds paranoid, doesn't it? But this week alone,
more than 2.6
million people downloaded the KaZaa Media Desktop from the
site. Most didn't realize that by installing this popular program for
music, video, and software files, they were also installing another
program, Brilliant, and giving permission to its creators, Altnet, to make use of their
via the Internet, for whatever purposes they choose. Alnet's annual
filed with the SEC,
the company plans "to create a private, secure, peer-to-peer
network ... to leverage the processing, storage and distribution power
of a peer-to-peer network comprised of tens of millions of users." In
other words, sell your computer's processing power.
Instant messaging software (ICQ, Microsoft
Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and the like) has been
teens for several years. Its use is growing among business users as
as a way to use the Internet to communicate with peers in real time. It
also be used to share files.
More than a few instant messenger users have found
receiving programs such as Back Orifice and Netbus from
on their "buddy lists." Both of these programs are examples of
Trojan horses, programs that, when installed, open up access to your PC
Finally, even a firewall is no protection at all
against computer viruses delivered in e-mail attachments. You should
still be running up-to-date anti-virus software, and be wary of opening
unexpected e-mail attachments whether from strangers or friends and
You may feel safe with a firewall locking your
computer's front door, but e-mail viruses and software installed on
your computer like Brilliant or Netbus could be leaving a window wide
open. There is protection, however. More on this in two weeks, in BIV