Can you trust your computer? Part 2 by John Skinner


By John Skinner

In Part One we discussed the parts of the computer (the Hardware) and the programs (the Software) which help control the computer. We also discussed downloading and installing regular updates from the manufacturer of your operating system and some basic steps to protect your computer from criminals who either want to steal the information on your computer or use your computer to carry out illegal acts.

Equally important is your security software. This MUST be kept up to date. Because my perception is that the vendors of security software that I pay for have higher responsibility for ensuring that it protects my computer, I usually buy my security software. There are many free security programs out there. Some are excellent.

My advice in choosing the best one for you is to browse the internet pages of reputable computer magazines for their reviews of the programs. Some magazines also include users’ reviews.

Many years ago I gave some disks to a friend who immediately told me that they were infected with a virus (a small unauthorised or malicious program). I had been religious about applying updates from my Security program vendor, so I was shocked and not a little embarrassed. I found that I was using an older version of their main software. The updates were only about new viruses that their experts had found. I did not realize that I had to use the updated main version. A valuable lesson that luckily only caused me some embarrassment as that was in the early days of cyber crime.

Modern security programs often come with three main functions: A Firewall which helps protect your computer by preventing malicious programs from getting into your computer from the internet. The second is an email checker which checks all your email as it comes in to ensure that it is virus free and lastly a virus checker which will check the programs and files on your computer as you open them to ensure that they are virus free. The virus checker will also make scheduled checks of all your computer files to trap any viruses and other malicious files and programs have not slipped in accidently or unnoticed.

I change my security software every two or three years. I believe that a new security program may find something that the previous one missed. This is just my personal belief.

By the way do NOT try and run two security programs simultaneously on your computer thinking that they will complement each other. Unfortunately the opposite is true. If running at the same time, the programs will go into conflict and leave gaps in your security.

Now you have an up to date Operating System and Security software. You are fully protected now. Don’t you believe it.

Your Internet Browser (the program that you use to access the internet) will usually have a tool called a Pop-Up Blocker. Some websites will try and send Pop-Ups to your browser. A Pop-Up is a small window that suddenly appears on your computer screen. Often the Pop-Ups are advertising but some times can include malware (software that contains code to allow criminals to have unauthorized access to your machine). I recommend that you ensure that the Pop-Up Blocker is activated. If someone sends you a Pop-Up you can set things to ask you if you want to accept it.

Years ago I did not have my Pop-Up blocker set. I mistyped a search and accidently hit a porn site. Within two seconds I had over 30 Pop-Ups from other porn sites on my screen with many more arriving every second. I did an emergency shutdown (I pulled the plug out of the wall. Not recommended except in cases of extreme emergency!!) I spent the next few hours disinfecting my computer with my anti-virus program. Then I set my Pop-Up blocker before reconnecting to the internet.

If you want to use a porn site or a site which streams unauthorised sports or movies, I would recommend putting your security software on its highest settings. Just because it is a porn site does not mean that it is immune to hacking or unauthorised intrusion. Media reports suggest one of the most popular porn websites on the internet was hacked last week.

Some of these sites will tell you that you need to update some files on your computer to make their streaming work. Ignore them.

If you click on the screen where they want you to, you are probably opening a big door into your computer for a criminal to come in and have his wicked way with your pride and joy.

Instead close down your web browser and check that you have the latest software installed. If not download it from a reputable website, install it and only then consider going back to your streaming site. I bet that even with up to date files, that the website will tell you that your software is out of date.

Emails are another source of problems. You should treat incoming emails the same way that you would treat an incoming telephone call.   If you receive an unsolicited email from anyone that you do not know or the subject line is offering you something that you did not ask for or seems too good to be true, unless you have security software that is tried and tested I would delete that email. And even if you have good security software I would err on the side of caution. Your security software can be set to warn you about any email with a dangerous attachment and it should be believed.

As I said in Part One, when a friend asks me to help them solve a problem with their computer I remind them that I will have full access to their computer. That access will give me much the same information they are likely to share with their priest, their doctor, their banker and in pillow talk with their significant other. They know they can trust me to keep their secrets.

I ask you again – Can you trust your computer to keep yours?

About the author: John Skinner is a retired Police Inspector with forty years Police service in England and Bermuda. He served five years with the Information Technology Unit of the Bermuda Police from the unit’s inception. For the last eight years of his Bermuda Police service he was responsible for the planning, and assisted in the implementation of, national internal security and natural disaster response. John Skinner holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and Technology. In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the Emergency Planning Society of the United Kingdom.


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