Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    The unprotected computer gets the worm

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #726 September 23-29, 2003 High Tech Office  column

    August's spate of worm infections spreading across computer networks showed that security problems were everyone's business. It's clear that computers running Microsoft Windows remain the most prone to these sorts of problems. It's not necessarily that alternatives such as Linux or Apple's Mac are inherently more secure, but these minority systems are rarely targeted by the people writing the worms and viruses.

    It's easy to blame Microsoft, but the company released a "critical update" a month before the Blaster series of worms started to spread across Windows 2000 and XP systems. In this case, the problem was the many vulnerable computers that were not updated. Windows users need to visit and regularly to download and install any critical updates.

    (Even though I've complained about Microsoft's updating process in the past, the increase in Internet-borne attacks makes it clear that corporate IT departments and home and small-business computer users have to do a better job at keeping operating system security patches up to date.)

    In addition, everyone connecting to the Internet needs a firewall, hardware or software that scans data coming in (and in some cases out) of the computer, preventing unauthorized access. One of the more popular software firewalls, Zone Alarm Pro (US$50,, has a newly released version 4. The new version continues to hide the computer from hacker's probes and to monitor both inboard and outboard data. Version 4 remains easy to configure and now checks outgoing e-mail for behaviour indicative of a worm or virus infection. An example might be if your e-mail software suddenly sends copies of the same message to everyone in your address book.

    It's now possible with Zone Alarm to create rules governing what sorts of programs and online actions are permitted or forbidden. As well, there are new privacy tools and optional Web cookie and pop-up ad controls.

    Zone Labs continues to offer a basic version of Zone Alarm free for individual or non-profit users. That version has not yet been updated to version 4. There is also a (US$40) Zone Alarm Plus 4.0, with a feature-set in between the basic and pro versions. Potential purchasers can download 30-day free trial versions of the plus or pro versions. None of Zone Alarm's three versions include antivirus software. Some users may prefer Symantec or McAfee's Internet Security Suites, each of which bundles together firewalls and antivirus programs.

    Vancouver's Absolute Software ( offers a different take on firewalls. Traditional software firewalls are aimed at individual users, each of whom has to install and configure the software on their own. AbsoluteFirewall is centrally managed, designed to protect a business's off-site workers, whether working from home or travelling with company-owned laptops. A company sets up groups of systems and creates sets of firewall rules to apply to each group. (By using templates provided by Absolute, this is less cumbersome than it sounds.) These can be customized so that different groups of users have different levels of access on the Net. These rules are stored on Absolute Software's servers. When a computer with AbsoluteFirewall starts up, it automatically (and invisibly to the user) checks in to make sure that its rules are up to date.

    The end result is that employees accessing the Internet outside the corporate firewall are protected without any work (or optionally, any knowledge) on the end-users' part. From US$40 per user.

    Windows users up-to-date on their critical updates and behind a firewall were safe from August's Blaster worm. The Internet has been likened to a superhighway, to a public library, and to a mega-mall. Lately, it's seemed more like a battle zone. It's the responsibility of all of us to ensure that our computers are protected.

Search WWW Search

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