119. Protect Yourself:
By Andrew D. Wright
The average home computer is like Aladdin's lamp from the children's
story: lots of power and mystery, able to produce miracles, just so long
as you keep the genie under your control.
Keeping your computer secure is the foundation for everything else you may
do with it. Without basic protection your computer can be taken over by
bad guys and used to spy on you or used in any number of other criminal
The first order of business is to make sure the Operating System (OS) of
the computer is up to date. The OS controls the basic functioning of the
computer. Most people use some version of Microsoft Windows as their OS.
The computer will show which version of Windows is running when it starts
Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista are all still being updated by
Microsoft on a monthly basis. These monthly updates fix problems with the
Windows OS that could allow attackers to gain control of your computer.
Windows updates are available from the Windows Update site and can also be
set to be automatically downloaded from there.
Earlier versions of Windows - 95, 98 and ME - are no longer being updated.
Users with one of these versions of Windows need to take special
precautions, covered in an earlier Mousepad
Users of Apple Macintosh computers running OS X version 10.3.9 or later
can download software updates from the Apple download site.
The next order of business is to make sure there is a working and updated
antivirus program on the computer. Here the most important thing is to
make sure the virus definitions are dated within the past couple of days.
This is so the antivirus program knows about the latest viruses.
The antivirus program itself needs to be updated regularly as well. If
your virus protection calls itself something with an old year in the
title, chances are good you are not being protected.
There are several free antivirus programs available to home users as well
as full-featured pay versions. After installing a new antivirus program
and getting the latest virus definitions, scan the entire computer to root
out any unwelcome visitors already there.
Users on high speed Internet connections should consider purchasing a
router. Priced between $50 and $100, a router hooked up between your
computer and your high speed Internet connection can protect against
network-based attacks. A network-based attack is where your neighbour's
infected computer tries to break into your clean computer over the
In addition to keeping the Operating System and antivirus program updated,
users should also keep any other program that talks to the Internet
updated as well. Your web browser and its plugins, your email program,
instant messaging programs, video and audio playing programs, all of these
programs can have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by the bad guys
but which are safely closed in the latest version of the program.
Many programs have links to their home pages in the Help menu item,
usually in the About sub-section, or else have a Check for Update menu
item there so you can compare your version of the program with the latest
Program release numbers count up with smaller changes being on the right
hand side of the version number and big changes being on the left. Version
126.96.36.199 is a newer version of the program than 188.8.131.52. Version 184.108.40.206 is
a major release version while version 220.127.116.11 would be a smaller update.
Microsoft Windows Update:
Apple Macintosh software update:
Chebucto Community Net recommended software:
Windows 95, 98, ME security:
The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community
Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about
computing, email firstname.lastname@example.org or
click here. If we use your question
in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.
Originally published 16 November 2007