The firewall of your car protects you from the controlled explosions within the combustion chambers of your engine. The uncontrolled exploitations of your computer, while connected to the Internet, also can be protected by a firewall. If you are not using one with your computer, be a good Netizen and get with the program. Now.
Operating systems have evolved into complex software, bloated with features that grow with each new release. With these upgrades come vulnerabilities that can be exploited by misdirected people with too much time on their hands and the inability to focus it into positive channels.
With a handful of new virus programs being released each day, these worms have grown in complexity and can even spread from unprotected computers without so much as opening an email message. Just turning on your computer and connecting to the Internet can turn it into a zombie drone computer which attacks others without you so much as knowing.
Beware of Viruses
Worms like the W32.Blaster and W32.Nimda take advantage of Microsoft vulnerabilities to spread over legitimate ports that Windows uses for things like file and printer sharing. Unbeknownst to you, software worms can take over your computer and Internet connection and use it to launch attacks at systems that they want to take down. This attack can happen in a matter of seconds after hooking your computer up to a broadband Internet line. Sites like Amazon, the White House and Microsoft have fallen victim to these attacks.
Worm attacks are not limited to broadband users, as modem-based connections can suffer through this agony, too. This problem can really throttle down and bottleneck their connections, bringing them to a crawl.
You have two basic choices of firewalls to protect your PC. The first and simplest way is achieved via software. Apple OS X users have a built-in firewall in the Internet control panel since the operating system is based on the sophisticated Unix kernel. There are few worms written to exploit that platform, but several vulnerabilities still exist that should be protected. The BrickHouse application from Brian Hill gives you more granular control and a graphical interface to help you set up this built-in Unix firewall.
My favorite Windows software is ZoneAlarm from ZoneLabs.com Note that you’ll have to search their site in order to find the basic and free version of the program. The trial version will want you to convert to paid software once it expires, but offers additional features like pop-up ad blocking that may be worth the price.
Once ZoneAlarm is installed, start launching programs like AOL IM, email and Web browsers to grant them permanent access to the Internet via the ZoneAlarm “pop-up” warning window. If you see something that does not look right trying to “phone home” over the Net, take heed of the filename and do not grant it access. If you find it was a constant running utility like WeatherBug, you can always grant it access later through the ZoneAlarm settings.
The ZoneAlarm software will also alert you to incoming connections, which I annoying. Many people run a scanning process to “wake up” vulnerable computers so that security alert likely will interrupt you every few seconds. Know that their scans will not go unanswered, thanks to your newly installed firewall software, and just turn off the alert feature unless you are really bored.
If you have multiple computers around your home, then a hardware firewall is going to be a better choice for you. These firewalls sell for less than $50 and some even come with wireless access points to let you share the Internet connection and printers a couple of hundred feet away without running wires. The firewalls work with Apple computers and do not require software running on your desktop.
Hardware firewall/routers block people scanning Internet connections since they convert the “real IP address” used by the Internet into an invisible internal private address that is used by your new home network. This process appears seamless to you because the routing that takes place happens automatically in the hardware. Routers can be big money savers, too, as you only need to buy a single broadband connection and IP address from your Internet provider to use multiple computers on the Net at the same time – great for families or roommates with computers.
My favorite hardware firewall is the Linksys WAP54G, which includes an 802.11g wireless access point. With this product in conjunction with an 802.11b, 802.11g card or laptop with Centrino technology, you can roam hundreds of feet around your home, dorm or office while maintaining a speedy connection to the Internet.
To read more about the worms and viruses that are affecting your computer while you are on the Internet, head to the Symantec Security Response website at www.sarc.com. To protect your computer from virus attachments, visit www.grisoft.comand download their free AVG Anti-Virus program.
If you think that you have hidden programs running in the background of your computer causing pop-up windows, you can download Ad-Aware from LavaSoftUSA.com to scan and delete this type of spyware. Finally, click on the Windows Update button within your Start button to keep your software patched and up-to-date. This should be a monthly event with the way patches are being released these days.
When not attacking goons online, the Gadget Guy Dave Mathews is talking about technology and the products that embrace them on TV and Radio nationwide. More stories can be found on his website at DaveMathews.com online.
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