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    New Internet horror show: Attack of the Killer Worms

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver September 6-12, 2005; issue 828

    High Tech Office Column

    As I write, the news is full of reports of the latest Windows security scourge: Zotob and Rbot worms targeting Windows 2000 systems that lack the latest Microsoft patches. At least 225 corporate networks, including the New York Times, CNN, NASA, and, in Canada, CIBC, BMO, and Bell were affected.

    The Microsoft patches were made available a week prior to the outbreak, showing that the time is shrinking between reports of a vulnerability and attacks. Some reports suggest that infected computers could be turned into "zombies" rented out by "cybercriminals."

    While it's otherwise been a relatively quiet year virus-wise, these attacks may motivate users to pay more attention to keeping their computers secure. (We'll assume that the IT departments of the organizations affected by Zotob et al will do better in the future.)

    Home, small business, and notebook computers all need to be set to check in regularly with Microsoft's Windows Update. Moreover, all should be running up-to-date antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall software.

    These categories have a wide range of options, including good free software for home use. (Distrust anything advertised in a Web pop-up ad, however.)

    If you want the convenience of getting all your security needs met in a single bundle, take a look at Zone Labs' new ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite version 6 (, CDN$85 for one year of updates). The company is well known for its popular ZoneAlarm firewall, available in both free and paid versions.

    The suite includes the latest version of this firewall, which, unlike the software built-into Windows XP, blocks both unknown incoming and outgoing Internet signals.

    Users of a firewall were safe from this recent round of worms, along with many other online hazards.

    New to ZA's firewall: new layers of defence blocking malicious changes to either the Windows operating system or your applications.

    In many cases, this will also prevent spyware from modifying standard Windows files. Additionally, the program will scan for spyware that either made it through the firewall or was already on the system prior to installing the ZoneAlarm Suite.

    The suite includes antivirus software licensed from Computer Associates. Scanning your system either automatically or manually checks for both spyware and viruses.

    The suite also includes MailFrontier's award-winning anti-spam software.

    Additional features include parental control, e-mail protection, instant messaging security and an ID Lock to check before allowing your credit card, bank account or other numbers to be sent out.

    ZoneAlarm's free version, which includes just the firewall without the other features, can become annoying with its pop-up queries that inform the user about each new or changed application; the suite minimizes these pop-ups with a database of 18,000 known safe and 52,000 known unsafe programs.

    Various other security packages are available bundled as suites. The new ZoneAlarm suite stands out with better integration between the modules.

    This makes it easier for the user to manage the program's features. It also lets the program run in the background without becoming a major drain of computer resources.

    (Note: Zone Labs strongly recommends uninstalling any older version of ZoneAlarm prior to installing this new version.)

    If you're running Windows, you need to take security seriously.

    Of course, you may want to consider alternatives to Windows. I'm currently evaluating the free Ubuntu Linux distribution, which describes itself as "Linux for Humans" ( It's available in a version to install on a PC (on its own, or sharing a hard drive with a Windows installation).

    Alternatively, a "Live CD" version boots off a CD without needing to install anything on your computer at all. That makes it possible to see whether it can meet your needs without affecting your current installation. More at a later date.

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