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10 Basic Online Security Rules
Make sure your PC is really secure from 'Net-based hacker attacks - without spending a dime.
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10 Basic Online Security Rules
5. Check these essential system settings
5.a Show all file extensions in Windows Explorer
By default, Windows 9x hides certain file extensions. The result is you can't always tell what a file really is and may accidentally run a dangerous email attachment. For example, the 'love-bug' virus arrived as an email attachment named 'iloveyou.txt.vbs'. The '.vbs' part was hidden from many users who, believing it to be a harmless text file, opened it...
Actions to take:

1. Open Windows Explorer.

2. Click Tools > Folder Options > View and under 'Files and Folders' make sure that 'Hide file extensions for known file types' is UNCHECKED.

3. While you're there you might also want to CHECK 'Show all files' under 'Hidden files'.

5.b Turn OFF your preview pane
It's an inconvenience but the bottom line is that virus-writers target the HTML parsers of email clients, and some exploits can cause code to be executed on some systems simply by viewing the message - i.e. without the attachment being opened.
5.c Check your network bindings
By default, Windows 9x machines are set up for connection to LAN (Local Area Network)s. The protocols for LAN use are less restrictive than those on the 'net, so it is important to separate the two by ensuring that the Internet protocal (TCP/IP) cannot be used to access things which should properly only be available on your LAN. OK so I don't really know what I'm talking about here, but check out the 'One Minute Primer in Networking Basics' on Fred Langa's article Four Myths of Online Security for a more technical explanation and then (if you're on a dial-up connection) follow these steps:
Actions to take:

1. Make sure you have your Win9x installation CD available (as you may need it to complete these changes, particularly if you have a network card).

2. Open Control Panel > Network.

3. Double-click 'Dial-Up Adapter'. Double-click 'Bindings'. UNCHECK anything except TCP/IP. Click O.K.

4. Double-click 'TCP/IP -> Dial-Up Adapter'. Cancel the warning. Double-click 'Bindings'. If they are present UNCHECK 'Client for M$ Networks' and/or 'File and printer sharing for M$ networks'. If you get a warning 'TCP/IP is no longer bound to any drivers' select 'No'.

5. If you have any network cards, for each card click on the TCP/IP label and then follow the same procedure for TCP/IP -> Dial-Up Adapter (in the step immediately above).

6. If you are on a LAN and do want to share files and printers locally you need to set up a non-internet protocol - ISP/SPX or NetBEUI. Again, the procedure for this is described in Four Myths of Online Security

6. Test your defences
Whenever you open a connection to the net you open many channels, and these openings (of which you may not be aware) can be used by hackers to get control of your machine.
Actions to take:

1. Install a good personal firewall like the free Zonealarm or Agnitum Outpost.

2. Test your system by visiting Shields Up, Steve Gibson's hugely informative (but rather poorly designed) site and do whatever he advises. While on the subject of testing sites you can check your system & net connection for speed and get optimisation recommendations from PcPitStop.

7. Detect and remove SPYWARE
Many programs claim to be freeware, but without giving you any warning they install an invisible system for collecting information about your surfing habits and reporting it back to their base. These are known as 'spyware'. Usually these systems are used for targetted advertising, which may (arguably) be harmless but they have the potential for more sinister uses and there is no reason to tolerate their existence on your machine.
Actions to take:

1. Get, install and periodically run Ad-aware and Spybot Search & Destroy.

2. To prevent reinfection by Aureate/Radiate - search for advert.dll on your system. If it's there and if you can, delete it (Ad-aware will do this for you). Then create an empty text file, name it advert.dll, make it read-only and save it in your Windows/System directory. Then configure Ad-aware (version 5 or later) to ignore advert.dll.

8. Consider these other security issues

O.K. I haven't got round to finishing this article yet... here I intend to address myths and genuine security issues relating to Javascript, Cookies and ActiveX. The detail will have to wait, but here's a quick low-down:

Javascript itself is generally safe - although it can be a pain when pop-up windows explode all over your screen, or a badly written script paralyses your browser, or you get redirected to (usually) some porn site or ten. There are measures you can take to avoid these nuisances becoming damaging, but turning off Javascript would seriously reduce the net's functionality, so it's not a realistic option.

Cookies are not inherently dangerous, but they should be managed. The latest version of Internet Explorer includes some cookie management facilities or you can download a freeware/shareware application to do this.

ActiveX is another story completely. ActiveX is simply NOT safe. So where does that leave Flash? As far as I'm concerned - nowhere. Since ActiveX controls CAN be dangerous, and to view a page using Flash you have to say yes to ActiveX, but the dialogue does not tell you which ActiveX control it is asking permission for - I never view pages with Flash.

Actions to take:

1. In Control Panel click 'Internet Options' (or in Internet Explorer click 'Tools > Internet Options'. Click the 'Security' tab, select the 'Internet Zone', click 'Custom Level' and make sure that under 'ActiveX controls and plugins' everything is marked either 'Prompt' or 'Disable'.

2. Install the freeware ScriptSentry to monitor the behaviour of Windows Scripting Host scripts, ShellScrap documents (hidden SHS/SHB extensions), HTA files, REG files, and more.

9. Don't trust Microsoft products

I'm not saying that Microsoft itself is evil... far from it - the success of their products has been a major contribution to the growth of the wonderful worldwide web. But that success has also made them the prime target for creators of malware. And the fact is, while Microsoft's record for building and releasing secure systems and applications is risible, it's the vast numbers of users which attracts the vast numbers of analysts (both well and ill intentioned) who discover the vast numbers of security holes which have led to the release of the vast numbers of patches...

One might argue that security flaws also exist in other applications (and they have been found in all Microsoft's leading rivals - both Opera and Netscape browsers, Eudora email, and even the Mac and Linux OSs) but that these do not attract the publicity of, for example, a serious security hole being found in WindowsXP within a month of its release.

One might argue that older but still worthy Microsoft products (such as Windows98 and Internet Explorer 5) are actually safer than anything else around because they have now been thoroughly probed and tested in the real world and patches are available for all known security holes.

One might even be so cynical as to suggest Microsoft's 'Safe Computing' campaign is a smoke-screen for incompetence and mendaciousness on a scale unprecedented in the history of capitalist endeavour, and that since the American judicial system so comprehensively failed to punish their illegal past practices all their recent initiatives have been motivated by a desire not just to competely control the PC market but to also invade the privacy of its users for their own profit.

Or, put another way, in the light of the spyware contained in Internet Explorer 6, the whole user-unfriendly Product Activation thing and the threats contained in their latest EULA (you agree to M$ installing software which may disable parts of your system) one might become so suspicious of Micros**t's intentions as to consider the learning curve of Linux a fair price to pay for the security of escaping the evil empire.

One might... I couldn't possibly comment (or resist the lawsuit if I did).

So I'm really undecided and frankly I think there's no way of ever knowing for certain which version of which browser and email client is the safest... It's an ever-changing scene, in which the only constant is that you should not unquestioningly TRUST any software maker, but assume that all the software you have is flawed and the onus is on you to keep an eye out for updates and patches...

... and be very wary of the latest release from Microsoft. Love them or hate them, the bottom line is - biggest market equals biggest target.

10. Stay informed
The net is ever-changing and so are the risks. Subscribing to just a handful of newsletters and bulletins can help you keep alert to the latest dangers.
Actions to take:

1. Subscribe to Fred Langa's newsletter and receive twice weekly a highly informative roundup of net news. I subscribe to the 'Plus!' (paid for) edition, which at £7 p.a. is a bargain!

2. Subscribe to Microsoft Security Bulletins for the earliest notification of the discovery and fixes available for M$'s notoriously insecure software.

3. For advanced warning of live viruses, subscribe to AVG Antivirus / Symantec AntiVirus Research Centre Newsletter / Trend Virus Info / McAfee Dispatch and Sophos Email notification

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2. Make sure your PC is really secure from 'Net-based hacker attacks - without spending a dime.
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