Monday, June 13, 2005

How to Prevent Viruses, Trojan Horses and Spyware, and Hacks

Friends, neighbors and relatives are nailing me all the time to fix their trashed systems - usually XP, sometimes earlier Windows systems. They almost always ask how it is that I manage to avoid these same problems that plague them.

So, here is how I do it - YMMD.

1) Get behind a decent firewall. A cheap little PC with a small physical footprint is good enough (500Mhz is plenty fast enough). Install OpenBSD on it. Run nothing on that box you don't need. Configure the firewall for NAT, and turn off the usual ports used by the hordes of Chinese hack-in servers running out there. Zone Alarm and products like it protect only the local machine, not the network, and they mess with the traffic as it goes by - not good.

2) If you insist on using Internet Explorer to browse, NEVER EVER accept any ActiveX from anywhere, anytime.

3) Use a webmail interface for your email. This has many benefits, not the least of which is your portability. Access your email from anywhere. Once you download it, it's yours to look after. Leave it on the mail server and access it via the web.

4) Use separate logins for different family members sharing a machine. This creates separate environments. This has many advantages.

5) Consider getting rid of Microsoft stuff altogether. I have used Linux since 1997. It does everything I need. I admit it's not the best platform for games - but I don't do many of those, and when I do, I dual boot into Windows. Many Windows applications run fine under WINE - a windows emulator.

Contrary to what Microsoft wants you to believe, you *can* surf, blog and email happily with a completely free and robust Operating System.

6) Put a UPS between the nasty wall circuit and your precious machine. This will do the best job for conditioning your power at home that is affordable.

7) Use Firefox instead of IE if you want to stay on Windows. It's great for nailing those irritating popup windows.

In general, if in doubt about any security/privacy option, choose the option that causes you to be prompted. Knowing what's going on is your first line of defense.

If your firewall gives you reports, have a look at them from time to time. Be very suspicious of outbound traffic that is blocked - it may mean you are already infected.

Post your questions in the comments below.