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12/04/2001 Archived Entry: "Cyber Terrorism - What are YOU Doing to Prevent It?"

Just to keep the pot stirring whilst I work on v4.0 (and some better things to say), I thought Id drop a nickel into the cyber terriorism opinion bucket [klink].

I have been receiving email from various people I do not know - blank 're:' and the email address is modified with an underscore before the name. I have checked McAfee and Norton and have not found a virus entry that matches these symptoms. I have emailed these folks and a few have responded - it seems nobody really knows why this is going on and everybody claims that their machine is not the culprit (actually, a few suggest that Im to blame). No doubt, somebody knows what the hell is going on, so please email me if you know something I don't know (no, it's not 'goner').

Like other things that have hit us full force and in the face recently, it is clear that the Internet is not the peaceful place it once was. Innocuous email from a friend can be a prelude to disaster. Visiting a seemingly innocent site can tag your computer for future attacks. Much of the spam we receive is designed to entice and invade our computers ('come on in', said the spider to the fly). Moreover, if you use DSL or cable for access, your potential for trouble only multiplies.

I have instituted some rather Draconian limitations on friends who can forward email to me - some get a little upset when I gently ask them not to send forwards, but they get over it. Also, ask before you send me any attachments. Unwanted attachments do two things: it causes me to spend time downloading a file that I didn't ask for and it compromises my security. I also limit my own activities - first of all, I stopped forwarding jokes and what-not, it only encourages habitual forwarders. I do not visit spammed sites - particularly porn spam - because many of these sites can (and do) open the door to other types of cyber invasions (I have enough problems controlling cookies I get from 'legitimate' sites). You can control most threats without buying one piece of software or service. One simply makes a decision to be proactive and defensive, and most of the virus threat evaporates.

Here are a few other things you can do to improve security:

First, get a firewall particularly if you have DSL or cable. Im not going to go into the reasons why and if this is the first time youve heard this warning, then I suggest two things: (1) turn off your computer and (2) read some literature on the subject before you turn it back on. ZoneAlarm is free and downloadable, and it is a good safeguard against common types of attacks - it is recommended by nearly every reviewer and network tech I have talked to. I have been using it for about a year and just purchased the 'Pro' version with a nifty add-on tool called PestPatrol.

Second, get serious about your anti-virus software NOW. I suggest, as do most experienced computer users, either McAfee or Norton. Once you get it, keep the virus table updated DAILY. I use McAfee VirusScan Online - an ASP model that keeps the tables updated every day and uses services online for scans. If you don't do this, then don't complain WHEN your computer is attacked.

Third, if you have DSL or cable, go to this site: DSL Reports. Sign up and click DSLR TOOLS. There you will find various self-explanatory tests and software tools that will help tweak your system for optimal online use and check to see if you are vulnerable to crackers and hackers.

Fourth, reboot your DSL log-on often. Most DSL services assign IP addresses dynamically - and this IP address is specific to your computer. Some, not all, crackers and hackers scan for computers that are vulnerable and have fairly reliable IP addresses (e.g., vulnerable computers that have been online for more than 48 hours). If you reboot your access once every day then you will effectively eliminate your computer from any list of 'reliable' machines.

Fifth, better than #4 above, turn off your computer at night. I used to leave my machines on all night to save wear and tear on the hard drive from cold starts each day. However, unless you have an iron-clad firewall that can stop ANY hacker attack (btw, nobody has one), then you could lose what's on your hard drive AND your pride.

It's a nasty world out there - be vigilant.

Oh, and one last note - Gasoline Opinions just doesn't work for me. I came up with another name though: "Heavy At Large" - but I'm not certain what the photo ought to be.

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