Protecting your Computer
In order to make sure your nice, expensive multimedia computer continues to work with the speed and efficiency it had when you first lifted it from its packing you have to worry about computer security. When all our machines where isolated, just sitting on the desk, the potential for something attacking your machine was limited to what you put on the hard drive. Now, most machines have high speed internet. The faster you can surf the web the better the opportunity for the nefarious members of this global community to sneak harmful software on your machine. It is important to make periodic reviews of what you are doing to protect your machine and the valuable information it contains. There is always something new out there, viruses, Trojans, BHOs and other tiny programs can open your computer to the prying eyes of others or simply ruin your machine.
One of the biggest changes in computer security is the release of Microsoft XP Service Pack 2. Unlike most service packs that just make some under the hood changes, this one significantly changes some of the look and feel of the operating system. For one thing, Microsoft has added the new Security Center. This new option screen and functionality consists of there components, firewall, automatic updates and anti virus.
The first part of the Security Center is the firewall. This is a piece of software that sets up between your machine and your internet connection monitoring for unwarranted attacks. With SP 2 the old, almost useless firewall protection inherent in XP is improved but it still is no where near being up to what third party vendors offer. First, there is only protection from incoming events. While this will help block someone getting into your computer it will not prevent any virus from using your machine to attack others. Fortunately, Microsoftís Security Center can be easily configured to recognize third party firewalls such as McAfee. Next is the inclusion of a previous feature, automatic updates, into the Security Center. Microsoft XP can be configured to periodically check with Microsoft to determine if any critical updates are available. The preferred setting for Security Center is to automatically accept and install the updates without user intervention. If you opt to review the updates before installation the center will show a warning. Last there is a nominal anti-virus as part of the Security Center. Like the firewall it is not as effective or as responsive to new threats as third part protection. It will also recognize programs like McAfee to satisfy the protected status.
Service Pack 2 also has closed several of the many reported security violations known to be in the XP operating system. Changes have been made in Internet Explorer and Outlook Express to make surfing the web, reading news groups and email safer. Finally, IE has a pop up blocker and some improved control over those nefarious cookies that can communicate with sites telling them a lot about you and your internet habits. Wireless communications has also been made somewhat safer.
Even though Microsoft has made a big leap with XP Service Pack 2 they still fall short of what many third part programs can do. I work in a very Microsoft intensive company and even our stern security department realizes that in order to fully protect our machines we have to look beyond Microsoft for answers. Since I work exclusively from home our remote computing area often lets be test out other security solutions and a couple of companies have recently become leaders in software to keep your internet enabled computer safe. First is a browser that out performs MS Internet Explore at every turn, Mozilla and its little cousin Firefox. Mozilla is based on the Netscape paradigm and does not rely on the Microsoft code that is frequently exploited by that lowest form of life, the hacker. One way that people can control and monitor your system is the BHO, Browser Help Object. This little piece of code is often used to add a legitimate tool bar to your browser, such as the ones offered by Google and Yahoo. The thing is other less friendly companies will use this to control your browser and invade your privacy. Mozilla does not contain the necessary software hooks to even permit this code from entering your system. Mozilla (http://www.mozilla.org/) is all about security. It has a built in pop up blocker, managers for extensions and other plug ins. There are, of course, the familiar features of IE such as remembering IDs and passwords and cookie control but the level of control you have here is an order of magnitude above anything Microsoft has to offer. There are also a ton of new features such as tabbed browsers where new pages are opened in adjacent tabs instead of new browsers saving memory and making it a snap to move between several pages at a time. If you use the password manager a lot you probably donít even remember them by now. Mozilla lets you select an option to view the accounts and passwords for each secured page permitting you to document them before moving to a new machine or when you have to wipe your system out for a rebuild. Its little touches like this that shows this company has hired people that are like you, they want to enjoy their time online. Of, the best thing is the browser is free.
The other company that you should definitively consider entrusting your PC security to is the Giant Company Software (http://www.giantcompany.com/). They have two programs that are a must have for any personal computer. The first is their Anti-Spyware software. This program located and cleaned more potential threats that any other program of this type I have tried. I thought I had a fairly clean machine but Giant located and removed 31 spyware theaters no one else could detect. Giant works on several levels to protect your system. There is a scan mode that checks your machine for any potential dangerous additions to your system. This looks at the files, registry, cookies and any code that may lurk in memory. You can either quarantine the offender or delete it out right. There are inoculations that can be applied to help prevent any such software from even being saved to your machine. Finally, there are real time protections that work on three levels; Internet, System and Application agents. These work to block known threats. Giant is easy to install and frequently updated in order to keep pace with the many new threats that pop up each day. So far the average has been one update per week.
The other software from Giant that I was amazed at is their Anti-Spam program. Iíve tried the Anti-Spam from McAfee and was very disappointed. McAfee works by intercepting your mail, checking for potential spam and sending what it considers as clean to your email program. The problem with this is you have to manually alter every email account you use, making changes in both the email program and McAfee. For those of us that maintain several accounts this can be extremely tedious and time consuming. I also found that McAfee would lose the settings for one or more of my accounts forcing me to restore from a back up of when it worked. By the way, each backup took about 35 Meg of disk space. Giant works in a different way. It loads on top of your email program and scans the mail as it comes in. No changes to your email accounts is required, set up took a few minutes instead of about an hour with McAfee. You get new tool bars in your email program that gives you complete control over the spam cleaning process. Each email identified as spam is saved to a special folder where you can inspect the mail to make sure something you want was not placed there. With one click you can identify something as friendly or spam. A list of known friends and enemies is easily maintained. Not only did this program stop almost all spam right away I have yet to see a real email blocked. The system learns as it goes increasing your spam hit rate even more in just a couple of days. Each of these programs from Giant has a 15 day free evaluation period and cost $29.98 for a yearís subscription. Considering what you have to lose it is a bargain.
It may be a virtual world on the internet but the threats are very real. When you start up your high speed modem to connect to the world there are those out there that want your financial records, your identity and anything else they can mine from your system. Not only will this slow down the machine you paid so much for it can put you are risk in the real world. A little extra time and money will help protect your from what waits for you out there.