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    Author provides roadmap through security maze

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver April 11-17, 2006: issue 859

    High Tech Office column; 

    If you’ve glanced at this column over the past couple of years, you’ll have noticed the increasing attention to PC security-related issues. That’s because Internet-connected computer users, particularly Windows users, who ignore these issues put their computerized data and the computers and data of their friends, family and colleagues at risk.

    While I’m at risk of becoming a nag, there’s only so much I can say in a 600-word weekly column. For more information, you might want to check out Toronto-based technology writer Andy Walker. His 2006 book, Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Security, Spam, Spyware & Viruses (Que Publishing, $30: ISBN 0-7897-3459-1), notes on the cover that “No prior experience is necessary!”

    But while this may be true, it’s an unnecessary disclaimer. We all have prior experience: experience receiving virus-infected e-mail attachments. Experience with spyware slowing down our computers and with ads popping up for no apparent reason. Experience with spam e-mails promising larger sexual organs or a share in African millions. And, lately, experience with phishing e-mails hoping we’ll share bank account numbers and passwords.

    With a sense of humour that never distracts from the seriousness of the topic, Walker covers nearly all the bases: viruses, spyware, spam, hackers, identity thieves and wireless network snoops.

    He’s not afraid to make recommendations: products, both free and for sale that are must-haves and ones that are must-avoids.

    A few caveats: the book focuses on Windows XP. This isn’t a bad thing, since the bulk of the book’s potential audience is running this current Windows version. Users of older Microsoft Windows versions can still find the book valuable, but the examples and illustrations are all XP-centric.

    And getting a book into print has a relatively long lead time. In order to make an early 2006 publication date, Walker had to finish his book in the fall of 2005. As a result, he missed a major security issue that hit that winter: the rise of root kits, notably (but not exclusively) on several Sony music CDs. And at least one recommended product, the software then known as Microsoft AntiSpyware is now available in a new and improved (and still free) version with a new name: Microsoft Windows Defender.

    But don’t wait for version 2.0. If you’re responsible for your own computer at home or in a small business or even if you’ve got an IT person who’ll clean up after your digital messes, you’ll find this book will help you better understand the current computer security mess and help keep you from getting stuck in it. Or, if you’re the sort of person who reads the last page first, I’ll cut to the chase. Walker ends each chapter with an “Absolute Minimum” set of recommendations. The final chapter is on security products you should own. The short-list:

    Best free antivirus program: Grisoft AVG (home use only);

    Best commercial antivirus products: F-Secure Anti-Virus and Eset NOD32;

    Great free anti-spyware products: Microsoft Windows Defender and Spybot Search & Destroy;

    Recommended paid products: PestPatrol and PC Tools Spyware Doctor.

    Free and paid firewalls: various versions of ZoneAlarm.

    Anti-spam: Cloudmark Desktop (no free version).

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