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Computer Best Practices (CBP)
Home and Small Business Computers
In all of the following articles, I will be focusing on the Microsoft operating system, since this is my area of expertise. I’m sure that the suggestions and methods discussed here can be applied to some of the other operating systems in general, but for our purposes, we will only be looking at the Microsoft OS platforms.
Today, with the large proliferation of computers, whether they be in the office or at home, have become a large part of our everyday life. Computers at one time were the exclusive domain of very large organizations and governments where they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and usually in the millions. And this was just for the hardware and software. Support was in addition to the initial investment. They were maintained by factory trained professionals and were supported by the computer manufacturer. Early on, computers were recognized for their ability to perform large repetitive tasks very quickly and accurately. Today, computers have come a long way since then. The costs have come down dramatically, performance has greatly improved and there are thousands of programs available from finance to gaming to security and so on not to mention, connecting to the Internet.
Today, computers are the backbone of almost all business’ large or small including the “home business”. I cannot visualize any organization today that does not use computers in one way or another. And then there are the home users. Today, almost every household has at least one or more computers. We are so dependent on our machines to do our work or entertainment that we go into a panic if one breaks or does not boot up! My pictures, videos and MP3’s are on that machine! My business data is on that PC or server! So how can we help protect ourselves from such disasters? Read on.
So today, we will talk about “Computer Best Practices” in helping you to secure your personal or small business computer. For our discussion about your business, I am referring to ones that do not have their own IT support personnel and where they should already be well aware of methods in securing and supporting the corporate desktops, servers and networks.
CBP Rule #1:
Windows update. Does your system have all the latest OS (Operating System) updates from Microsoft? A lot of the updates have security patches that help secure your OS from malicious attacks. Normally, there are monthly updates, and in some cases if warranted, updates are offered more frequently. So how do you know if your system is up to date? On Windows XP for instance, go to your control panel and click on “Security Center”. Automatic Updates should be turned on. On Windows 2000, again go to the Control Panel, click on Automatic Updates icon and “Automatic” should be turned on. Other Microsoft OS may or may not have these settings or are in a different area. If it is not set for automatic updates, you can enable it and Windows will check for itself. Another method for checking the status is to open up IE, click on “Tools” and then click on “Windows Update”. From here, just follow the instructions and it will let you know if you are up to date or not.
CBP Rule #2:
Office updates. If you are running a copy of Microsoft Office, here again you can check for all updates. Normally, in the “Help” tab, you should be able to click on “Check for Updates” or something similar. Or here again, you can go to the Microsoft web site at
look for “Office Update” and go from there.
If you are using something other than Microsoft Office, here again go to the manufacture’s web site and check for any updates.
CBP Rule #3:
Firewall. If your computer is connected the Internet (and who isn’t), is your system running a “Firewall”? A what you may ask? A firewall is like it sounds, a barrier from something else. It is akin to the firewall of a car where it separates the engine compartment from the passenger compartment. Likewise, a computer firewall separates your computer from the Internet from someone who may want to infiltrate your system without your knowledge thorough a “back door” so to speak. A good firewall will also warn you if a program within your system wants to connect to it’s parent somewhere on the Internet and it will block any unsolicited requests coming in from the Internet. Newer versions of Windows such as XP and Vista have built-in firewalls. In XP and similarly in Vista, you can check again in Control Panel, click on Security Center and see if the firewall is “ON”. If not, in the Control Panel, click on Windows Firewall and turn it On. Many users like to install other firewalls other than Microsoft’s built in one. If you have a firewall other than the Microsoft standard one, enable only one or the other; having more than one will just slow down you system. Unless you plan on living dangerously, always use a firewall if you are connected to the Internet.
Another note regarding firewalls, if you are connected to the Internet using a external “router”, most likely it already has firewall functionality. This doesn’t mean that you no longer need to have some sort of Windows firewall. On the contrary, having an OS firewall together with a router gives you another layer of added security from the outside world.
CBP Rule #4:
Antivirus software. Most of us are aware by now that we need to run an anti virus program so that it can nail down anything that you may encounter along the way, but I’ve seen a lot of computers that have the anti virus definition files that are out of date. What does that mean? The Internet is full of programs that can be downloaded by warped individuals to create new viruses ready to infect your computer. When a new virus hits the Internet and if you are unlucky enough to come across it, your computer with outdated definition files may not recognize it and now it is in your system! You may not even notice that your system is infected, but it may destroy your personal data, be a botnet (rouge server) for distributing spam or whatever.
CBP Rule #5:
Spyware. As the word implies is software that’s installed without the users knowledge to gather personal information or to take control of a computer system usually for commercial gain. A users surfing habits, banking information and other personal data can be mined or for delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements. Because Internet Explorer is so tightly integrated with the Windows OS and of its popularity of use, it is usually the target for exploiting its weakness in order to gain access to a users system. A lot of users are aware of this and install alternate web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera, although no browser is completely safe. Spyware can also be installed by the user when they download “free” tools or plug-ins. Some computers have so much spyware that they slow down to the point of being unusable or unstable. In some cases, it is so difficult and time consuming to remove infected systems that the only alternative is to wipe the system clean and do a complete re-install of the system. Unlike worms and viruses Spyware does not usually replicate from one system to another.
So how do we protect ourselves from having spyware inadvertently install itself on our systems.
First off, follow CBP Rule #1. Updates for your OS is your first step in closing some of the doors for exploitation.
Secondly, anytime you install a “free” program, ask yourself if this is from a trusted source. Many spyware programs piggyback on desirable programs such as Kazaa, shareware or a Web Accelerator or other such program. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good free programs that are trustworthy, but always keep your guard up and only download and install software from a trusted site. Also ask yourself, do I really need this program and is it really worth installing?
Thirdly, there are anti-spyware programs that are offered by a lot of anti-virus and anti-spyware companies. Some programs such as Lavasoft's Ad-AwareSE or Spybot - Search & Destroy are highly regarded and are free for personal use. And lately, major anti-virus vendors have packaged anti-spyware with their products for a total anti-virus, anti-spyware solution. Microsoft also has a program call Windows Defender which comes standard in Vista and is a download for XP. In the options list, you can configure it to start automatically for real-time detection.
Forth, if you have installed one of the anti-spyware programs, it would be prudent to run a scan on your system every 30-40 hours of computer usage. Of course if you suspect that something is not quite right with your system, run the anti-spyware program as soon as you can to mitigate any further damage.
And lastly, where do you surf on the Internet? Be careful when going to so called ‘risky’ web sites. They are the source of a lot of spyware and viruses especially if they entice you to click and download something.
Hopefully, we have covered some very important areas in helping you secure your computer systems. In the forthcoming chapters, we will go a little further in helping you to secure you system and network.
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