Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Security check-list ensures computers work smoothly

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #689  January 7- 13, 2003 High Tech Office  column

    Lately, my antivirus software has intercepted more e-mail messages with virus-bearing attachments. One recent memorable afternoon, I clicked a total of 41 of those notices.

    Viruses, spam e-mail messages, hacker attacks, intrusive Web-based advertising and other potholes on the Information Superhighway all are increasing in frequency, wasting increasing amounts of users' time and bandwidth. It's easy to get frustrated or angry with the people who create viruses or send mass unsolicited commercial e-mail. But users also have to take some of the blame.

    Take e-mail viruses, for example. These have received lots of publicity over the past three years or more. Is there any computer user who hasn't heard a warning about opening attachments from strangers? Among the infection-bearing messages I've recently received were "Happy humor Christmas" from rdbarrio, "Honey" from pbeherendt, and "Snowhite and the 7 dwarves: The REAL story!" from Hahaha. All, apparently, were from people unknown to me. Other messages appeared to be business or computer-oriented, but were also from strangers, with subject lines like "Meeting Notice" or "A IE 6.0 patch."

    I'm sure none of the readers of this column, upon receiving an e-mail message like one of these, would open an attachment with a name like Play.exe. But many people are doing just that, encouraging the ongoing barrage of infected messages that are showing up in my e-mail inbox.

    Business users on a corporate network should be able to count on their company's IT department, though checking home e-mail at work raises the possibility of infecting company hardware. Home users and users at many small businesses, however, are on their own, and need to take responsibility both for their own computers and to avoid causing problems for others. Among the things to do:

    • Install an anti-virus program. There are a number of relatively inexpensive and effective programs. Most modern programs make it easy to keep them up-to-date more or less automatically. (Macs and Linux systems are much less prone to infection than Windows systems.)

    • Use a firewall. Hardware routers or firewalls work automatically and don't affect performance, but they do hinder screen hackers trying to get into your system. Software firewalls may also check for programs installed that are trying to "phone home" without your knowledge.

    • Keep your operating system and Web browser up to date. Windows systems have a Windows Update icon in the Start Menu; use it regularly. Recent Windows XP and Mac OS X systems can be set to check for updates automatically on a regular basis.

    • Back up your data. Your operating system and applications can be reinstalled, but your data, if lost to computer error, fire, theft, or whatever, is irreplaceable. Take responsibility for having multiple copies in multiple locations.

    • Know your system. The more familiar you are with your computer and your software, the more likely you are to notice if something is not working properly or if something new is installed or running. Find out what programs are running automatically in the background and pay attention if this list changes.

    • Become aware of what other users are doing on your computer. Children and teens often install software on the family computer that impedes performance and security. If you know what's already installed and what's running in the background, you're more likely to notice if something new shows up.

    Make it your new year's resolution to keep your computer systems safe and secure in 2003. More during the next few weeks on tools and strategies to help you do this.

Search WWW Search

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