Protecting Your Computer Systems
Here’s a scary thought for us multimedia types, who have projects to produce and deadlines to meet. We’re just one e-mail away from losing all the hard work on our computers. If the digital bombshell doesn’t come attached to an e-mail, it will happen when a hacker gains access through a weakness in the operating system – unless you put up your guard.
It’s amazing how many multimedia staffers and churches I know that have no computer protection at all. Protecting your computer should be your top priority if there’s any work of value on your machine. We also need to help make sure the church staff, including the pastor, understands the criticality of this issue. We are, indeed, in this effort together. I want to give you some tips to protect your computer, point you to some helpful resources and most importantly, give you full warning that the danger is real.
First, you should have anti-virus software running on your machine. The “virus definitions” should be updated daily. If you only have limited dollars to spend on software, spend it protecting your computer. Over the past 12 months, several viruses have come my way but anti-virus software stopped them. Each week and sometimes more frequently new virus definitions (digital “vaccines”) are downloaded into the software automatically.
Secondly, you should have a firewall installed on your computer. Like the name implies, it will let no data into your computer and nothing out, unless you give it permission. You are particularly vulnerable to a hacker making entry into your computer through flaws in the Microsoft operating system – no matter whether you’re running Windows 98, XP or anything in between. You are not immune to such hacking, even if you use a dial-up connection, but you are especially susceptible if you have high-speed access. Install a firewall pronto.
Thirdly, you should consider running the latest security patches made available by Microsoft, found at http://www.windows.com. The largest patch for Windows XP is called Service Patch 2 (SP2). It is about 90 megabytes. You will need access to high-speed access to download this update. Colleges, universities and public libraries usually have free high-speed access or a reputable computer dealer can assist you in updating your computer. SP2 has a firewall included, but you should still have your own firewall installed. Before you install SP2, you should do a little research on the Microsoft website to know what software this patch affects and how to control Microsoft’s new firewall. It ran successfully on my computer, but some have reported problems. Do your research to see what others with your type of computer have experienced. Also, you should back up your files before installing any patch. Installing a patch is akin to doing brain surgery.
Fourth, you should be aware that there is a security threat that can bypass every piece of protection software that you have installed on your computer. The scam is called “phishing”. This is when con artists make themselves out to be legitimate mortgage companies, credit card companies and financial institutions. They will send you e-mails that look authentic, asking you to update your confidential banking information. Never give personal information of any kind to an on-line source, unless you are sure the vendor is legitimate. Con artists shouldn’t deter you from doing business with legitimate on-line companies, however. I frequently order books, CDs, software and other items off the Internet. The companies are reputable and the information is transmitted over a secure server. Also, the limit of liability on my credit card is $50, meaning that’s all I would be out if a charge was illegitimate.
Fifth, you should have anti-spam software installed on your computer. Spam is junk mail. It’s digitally harmless but terribly annoying. If you want your e-mail account to remain as “pure” as possible, never sign up for e-mail newsletters using your primary e-mail account and never post your e-mail address to your web site. Present your e-mail address on your web site as a graphic and use an alias e-mail address to sign up for newsletters and the like, an address that you can quickly delete.
My choice for protection software is Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2005 which includes an antivirus scanner, a firewall, anti-spam and anti-spyware capabilities, parental controls and a wireless network monitor, which allows you to enable or deny wireless access for others to your network. At a street price of $49.95, this will be the best money that you spend this year for any software. What’s your pick?
The issues I’ve outlined here are serious enough that they are included in the government’s Homeland Security plan. You should not only have a plan, but begin immediately to protect your computer. I highly recommend that you see http://www.us-cert.gov to get the latest protection information.