Internet Security

We've all heard how important Internet Security is. Maybe you or someone in your family has had information compromised, credit or debit card information stolen, your identity stolen, your computer crash temporarily or even irrecoverably, or had someone stalk you or your children because of another person gaining access to personal information. The problem, sadly, is pervasive in today's society. If your information has been compromised or you have suffered through one of these circumstances, please feel free to comment on what you have done to rectify the situation and how you work to prevent this in the future.
How can you protect yourself and your family?

  1. Make sure you have a current Internet security system. An Internet security system includes Anti-virus, anti-adware, and anti-malware products as well as means to detect and protect your computer environment from people who are sniffing to detect key information traveling through the Internet.

I have been using anti-virus programs beginning in around 1995. Working in an industry where we shared information internationally among co-workers and customers, we had to be particularly careful about ensuring we had no viruses. While we had anti-virus products on our local computers, we learned the hard way that we needed a secondary anti-virus program of a different sort to ensure that our data files were not sent out with viruses attached. The secondary anti-virus scanner we used was PC-cillin by TrendMicro.

I also worked for a company that created corporate Internet security software. One of the lessons I learned from that experience is that no anti-virus or Internet security software will be 100% secure. The reason is this, someone has to originally invent a virus or other malware. Until it is invented, it cannot be tested for and identified. It is very similar to human illnesses. If the disease has never occurred, there are no tests to identify the disease until it causes harm. Once that happens, companies create tests to quickly identify the specific type of germ that causes the disease, not only that, but these tests can be broadened to identify mutations of those germs that may occur.

That is what anti-virus software programs do. They identify a pattern or marker in a computer virus. Once that happens, they can broaden the scope to find copycat viruses that could cause harm.

When I began my own computer consulting business in 2002, I found that while many people had anti-virus software, there tended to be four specific problems:

(1) They let the anti-virus expire and it did not have the latest virus definitions to catch problems

(2) They purchased a product that stated it would protect from adware and malware, but the product installed without protecting the person's computer by default and finding the setting was hidden, not something that a regular person could do.

(3) Someone accessing the computer went to websites that are known for problems, including pornography sites, some gambling sites, and even those sites that look like so much fun and create so much trouble on one's computer. I even had a corporate customer who insisted on allowing users to install and use a program that had a variety of smiley faces when this was a known malware product. As I was, in turn, a customer to my customer for the type of service provided and the business had the information of thousands of customers and their sensitive data, I refused to allow that as it would send information to another site. Many times, in order to access those types of web pages that cause harm, one would have to override the anti-virus settings. Once the virus is on the computer, they deliberately disable the anti-virus functionality to protect your computer.

(4) The person installed or used a factory installed anti-virus, even one that they maintained, that simply did not do the job well and did not keep up well with the viruses, adware, and malware. One of my business customers continually had problems with her computer and adware, though she kept the anti-virus software up to date. I kept having to fix her computer. I checked for the problem with the anti-virus software company she used (a high-profile common anti-virus company that is commonly pre-installed on computers), another well-known anti-virus company, and a third that I had consistently had luck with. Only the third, TrendMicro could properly identify the problem and provide a solution for rectifying it. That has consistently been my experience the past 10 years of providing computer consulting and computer support. As she had just purchased a renewal of her existing anti-virus software, she kept it. A short time later, I happened to be in her office when her computer started acting up again. We got her data transferred to another computer in the nick of time. Her computer completely and irrecoverably crashed. She had to purchase a new computer to replace it. At that time, she changed and opted to use TrendMicro's solutions.

Author's note: I do not receive any reimbursement or benefit to recommending TrendMicro's products. I recommend them solely based on my experience in using them in the course of the past 10 years as a computer consultant.

At this time, I recommend more than an anti-virus solution, but an Internet Security solution that can help protect you and your family from going to a web site that seems harmless, but has reports of spreading viruses or other malware to those who go to the page.

This type of software also provides a firewall between your computer and the rest of the Internet world. There are hardware firewalls that can be installed between the Internet and a switch or hub, and firewalls that can be installed just inside the local area network, and software firewalls that are installed directly on a computer. For home users in a peer-to-peer network (there are no server computers), an Internet Security software is sufficient.

Do not allow anyone on your home network that does not have current anti-virus software installed. If “John” comes over to visit with “Sam” and wants to bring his computer and hook it up to your network so he has access to the Internet, make sure his anti-virus software is current and that he has the latest signatures updated before doing so. You do not need a compromised computer compromising your home computer network.

2.      Secure your Internet access device. Modern MODEMs that you will receive to give you access to the Internet for DSL, satellite, or cable connectivity generally come with secure authentication codes, specifically those with Wi-Fi capability. Make sure to keep your network secured. Otherwise, you can have people driving by, neighbors in your apartment complex, or others who can gain access to your home network and networking devices.

3.      Use secure passwords for EVERYTHING. If your personal computer does not have a secure login password (8 characters or more including upper and lower case characters, special characters, and numerals), make one. This can keep little Johnny from coming over and playing on your computer and putting “neat stuff” on there that can cause your computer to be anywhere from lethargic to entirely crashed. It can also help to prevent others from accessing your computer remotely. There are a variety of reasons why this is not entirely foolproof, but there is no point making it easy for someone to hack your computer. Unless they really want what you have, if it is too time consuming, they will move on to someone who is easier to hack.

One of my customers used a small local company's Internet service. They provided radio-based Wi-Fi in the community. Each company or family that used the service received a radio antenna to attach to their home to access the Internet. Sadly, this service was entirely unsecured. I could browse to “My Network Places” and see people's home computers, shared printers, access their computer and more. That was really scary. (No, I did not hack the computers, but someone who had a desire to do harm could readily have done so. It was an open door invitation.)

If you can see other people's computers that are not your computers from My Network places, if you do not have a firewall, they can see yours as well. This would be a critical time to purchase a hardware firewall that went between the Internet and your local area network at home so that you could share files and printers with your family, but not with all your neighbors.

4.      When sharing a computer, make sure that each person has their own login and password, preferably a reduced permissions account, not Computer Administrator. You may even want to give yourself (if you are the computer guru in the house) a reduced permissions account for yourself to use whereby you could not accidentally install malware on your computer, and a Computer Administrator account for installing software and updates on the computer for the family to use.

If you work somewhere that only certain people have access to the Internet, do not give them your password to access the Internet, even if you want to be nice. Recommend the local library or other such source for them. One of my business clients only allowed certain people access to the Internet in order to protect the data they had and their network. One employee wanted to help out a young lady who needed to register for classes at a local junior college and gave her the password to access the Internet. She told him afterward that while she was there, she installed a weather-monitoring software for him because she thought he would like it. This was not her computer. This was not authorized software for the company. Within a short time, his computer started failing. His was one of two computers in the company that had certain critical data and applications on it for the business. His computer had to be completely reformatted and reinstalled just because the man wanted to be nice and helpful.

5.      Do not use a business's autodraft feature for withdrawing funds from your account if at all possible. While the company may make every effort to secure your information between your computer, across the network to their server, and try to vet out employees who may have any criminal background, there are still times when someone gets through the cracks. Once your data is stored on their servers, it is there for someone to gain access to. While a hacker may work to gain access to personal information from outside of a company, it is far easier to do so within the company.

I had never had my credit or debit card information stolen until I decided to save a few dollars with my insurance company and allow them to autodraft from my card. This meant storing my account information on their servers. Within the month, my account was used for two small, but unusual drafts. Fortunately, the bank's credit and debit company caught this and called me. I canceled that card immediately and got a new one. I thought at first this was a different business that did this based on some information I received from the person, though I had not had a problem in five years with that business. I canceled that account with that business that I thought caused the problem right away. I then tried again with the insurance company and kept an eagle eye on my bank account. The same thing happened. I contacted the insurance company. They assured me that they had no reports of problems and that they secured people's data. I tried a third time. Again, within a short time, the same thing happened. This time, no other business at all had the account number. I disabled the autowithdrawal capability with that company.

6.      Protect your identity. Do not use your real name if possible if you are Absolutely do not use your children's real names in public forums.

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