Bits & P.C.s: Being ‘Net-aware’—part three

Over the past two columns, I have been talking about on-line security and the new methods that are being used to hack your computer. In this final part, let’s take a look at what you can do to prevent yourself from being a victim.

The first thing that you have to remember is that there are people known as “hackers” throughout the world that want to disrupt you and your computer. These disruptions may range from simply causing the computer to run slow, to deleting or renaming a few files, to changing data, such as spread sheet figures, to erasing all the data on the computer.

The second thing is that if you are online you are open to attack. This means that no matter how you connect to the Internet, whether it be a dial-up, DSL, cable, or some other means, you are vulnerable. The same can be said for Internet Service Providers (ISP), that even with anti-virus and spam filtering software, you can still be a victim

So what can you do? The answer is simple. Trust no one! Buy and install an anti-virus program BEFORE you have a virus or Trojan on the computer. If you wait until you are infected, the damage has already been done and the damage may not be able to be reversed. If you become infected without an anti-virus program installed but can still connect to the Internet, go to or and use their free online virus scanner.

It’s just as important to keep the virus scanner updated with new virus definition files. The anti-virus programs are updated almost daily; you should update at least three times a week.

The next thing you can do is to install a firewall program. This piece of software sits between you and the Internet, and watches for attempts by outsiders trying to access your computer. The program will also safeguard your personal data such as e-mail address or credit card information.

When you are online, use common sense. Do not give out information freely, ask yourself, “Would I answer the same questions if you were standing right in front of me?” When you do online banking, do pop-ups appear asking for logins and passwords? If they do, enter in wrong information and see what happens. If it’s a real pop-up from the bank, a message should appear stating that the log information was wrong; a hacked site will probably accept whatever you typed. Regardless, the safest thing to do is to leave the site and call the bank to verify the site hasn’t been hacked.

You can also set up an extra free e-mail account through Yahoo or Hotmail and use this account when you need to give an e-mail address when filling in a form. By doing this, all the junk mail will go to one account, reducing the spam in your real account.

The danger is real; you can be a victim, but you can take some easy steps to help reduce your vulnerability. Tomorrow may be too late—do it today.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times, e-mail, or call 243-1162.

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