Internet Security for the Home User

by Alan Zisman (c) 2000. First published in Toronto Computes, March 2000

Norton Internet Security 2000
Symantec Corporation
for Windows 95/98 computers with Pentium or better processors, 24 MB RAM, 60 MB drive space

It can be a wild and nasty world out there.

And in opening up our homes to the world, via the Internet, we open ourselves to letting the bad in with the good. Sex and gambling, as available to our kids as to us. Web sites that collect personal information without our knowledge or permission. Viruses. Malicious programs like Back Orifice or NetBus, that allow others to take control of our computers. An unending flood of advertising.

Corporations limit access from the outside with firewalls, but if you?re a home user, when you?re connected to the Net it?s open season on your computer. And if you?ve signed up for high speed Net access, whether via cable or ADSL, you?ve unknowingly compounded our problems, as our computers are connected to the Net all the time, whether you?re actively online or not.

Every potential problem, of course, provides an opportunity for a fix. And there are plenty?parental control programs like Net Nanny or Cyber Patrol. Ad busters like the free WebWasher. Cookie managers. Antivirus programs. Programs like Black Ice to watch for hackers probing for undefended Internet Protocol addresses.

Utilities giant Symantec has put them all together as Norton Internet Security 2000. The $89 package includes all those capabilities, along with a copy of the $60 Norton AntiVirus. It offers users the power to control undesired use of the Internet?both by children at home, by hackers trying to get in, and from websites trying to collect information.

When you install the program, it sets up a default account and a password protected administrator account? as administrator, you can make changes to the settings and create additional accounts?unless logged in as Adminstrator, restrictions apply?and users can?t disable the program, turn it off, or change the restrictions.

Unfortunately, it cannot automatically be set for whomever is logged into Windows?if you want specific restrictions to apply when your children are using the computer, you need to open NIS and manually log them in. Users may also be less than happy with the default settings?out of the box, for example, the default security settings are to allow everything. As a result, it would be a mistake to simply install it and assume your system is protected?be prepared to spend time reading the manual, creating accounts, and tweaking the settings.

In fact, security settings may seem like a no-win for some users?for potentially dangerous Java and ActiveX applets, the choices are to allow everything, block all?which can make many harmless pages refuse to load, or ask for permission every time?at best an annoyance. Behind the scenes, though the program?s personal firewall does a good job of protecting your computer from hacker attacks like Denial of Service and flood attacks.

Privacy settings allow users to block sending specific pieces of information?for example, it can be set up so that unless you?re specifically logged in, it will block sending your credit card number?a handy feature in some households, I?m sure! As with the security settings, cookies and other confidential information can be allowed, forbidden, or ask for permission each time. A Browser Privacy option can keep your browser from revealing your e-mail address and last site visited when queried.

Parental control settings let parents block children?s access to individual sites, or to categories of sites (sex, violence, racism, gambling, etc.)?of course, the categories are only useful if the program?s built-in database is kept up to date. Like Norton AntiVirus, the program automatically offers to update itself regularly, and includes a one-year subscription to Symantec?s Live Update feature.

As well, parents can limit children?s access to entire categories of web applications. Remove the checkmark beside Chat or Instant Messaging to block access to those sorts of programs.

Blocking ads not only removes many  irritating ad windows and banners, but it speeds up browsing as well, as less time is spent downloading a page. Some ads get through anyway, but a neat feature is the program?s Trashcan?Internet Explorer users can drag an ad to the NIS trash and it will never appear again. (Netscape users have to copy and paste the ad into the trash).

The program automatically adds Norton Antivirus, which is integrated into the NIS interface. As well, if you have a copy of Norton SystemWorks 3 installed, NIS will add itself as an option to that program?s console.

If you?re prepared to do some tweaking, Norton Internet Security can provide an extra level of control and security for a home or small business computer connected to the Internet. I?d especially recommend it to subscribers to ?always on? services like cable or ADSL connections.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan