Bits & P.C.s: Do you have a firewall?

First up, I would like to correct a major mistake in the last column. The correct Web site address to download the Mailwasher program is www.mailwasher.NET and not com. As the other newzpaper in town states, we strive for acurazy and I resemble the error.

Next up, my favorite subject, viruses and Trojans. Over the past month or so, the clowns have discovered a way to infect your computer by just being on the Internet. It used to be that you had to open an attachment you received via e-mail, or you received a file that contained the virus that got installed on your computer when you opened the file.

Now that has changed. The sasser worm has the ability to find your computer while you are online. Once it has located your computer by way of the IP address that your Internet provider assigns, it will look for an open port in order to gain entry.

These ports are the means by which such things as instant messaging are able to function. Normally, your computer will open and close specific ports as the program requests access to them. There are certain ports that may remain open either by default or by a program that fails to close them.

If sasser finds a port that it can enter through, it will install itself on your computer. The main payload or effect of sasser is that it will display a message that the computer is going to shut down within 60 seconds and then does exactly that. You may not be able to get on the Internet, your anti-virus program may not function, and other programs may either stop working or function improperly.

Microsoft and the anti-virus companies have released cleaner programs that will help you remove the infection from the computer.

It appears the people who have been hit hardest are the dial-up Internet users. A person with a cable or DSL connection usually has a router installed that also functions as a hardware firewall. The firewall shields your computer from the hackers by making it difficult for them to get access to the ports on the computers that are connected to the router.

If you do not have a router, then you should install a software-based one. Zonelabs ( still has a free version of their Zone Alarm program available for download. Symantec offers Norton Internet Security, and McAfee also offers a firewall program, along with a number of other companies.

These programs work in conjunction with your anti-virus, pop-up stopper, and other software to protect your system from attacks from the outside. If you are online, even just for e-mail you should take steps to ensure that your computer does not become infected.

It can take hours to remove viruses and Trojans from an infected computer. It may be necessary to erase the hard drive and re-install all the programs. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may lose your data files, photos, and other important information that may be difficult or impossible to replace.

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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