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119. Protect Yourself:
Secure Your Computer

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 schemes.

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 up.

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Earlier versions of Windows - 95, 98 and ME - are no longer being updated.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 column.

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 Internet connection.

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 release.

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 is a newer version of the program than Version is a major release version while version 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 or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 16 November 2007


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