Car drivers must be educated and licensed in order to drive a car. This legal requirement of course, does not stop drunk drivers from getting into a car and killing someone. And it certainly does not eliminate our exposure to the speeders, tailgaters, and the road ragers that seem to plague our highways. Licensing then, doesn’t seem to eliminate the risks we face on the road.
So would requiring a license to use the Internet make it a safer place for all of us? Would requiring a license from the Department of Computer Literacy, protect us from the ever increasing exposure we all face to Trojans, Spyware, Virus’, Phishing Scams, Identity Theft, ….. the list goes on.
I’m being facetious of course. Unfortunately however, these dangers on the Internet are not, in a sense, unlike the dangers and risks we face while driving a car on our streets and highways.
Unlike the need to be educated and practiced, in order to qualify for a driver’s license; to access the Internet all that is required is a modem attached to a computer. There’s no need to prove qualifications. There’s no need to prove an awareness of the very real dangers that the Internet presents.
Being involved in computer security, I am amazed and frankly frustrated, at the lack of knowledge exhibited by many typical computer users, and most importantly, the lack of knowledge concerning the need to secure their machines against the ever increasing risks previously noted, on the Internet. I’m not talking about unintelligent people here. I am talking about people who are intelligent in every other aspect of life, but who view computers like cavemen who saw fire for the first time.
The problem, it seems, is multifaceted. Part of the problem, in my view, is simply fear. People do not understand computers, so they are afraid of them in a sense. Secondly, people generally, are simply not interested in learning about computers sufficiently to make the fear go away. The question is, of course, should they need to know anything other than how to turn on a computer and a minimum knowledge of the applications they use? Well maybe not.
Many computer experts agree that it is primarily flawed computer software and not just inadequate user knowledge that is the biggest contributor to the proliferation of unsecured computer systems and cyber-crime, on the Internet.
It seems to me then, what is needed as a good first step, are machines that are designed with outwardly simple, but internally sophisticated operating systems, secure and easy to use for the majority of users; where no user interaction is required to maintain the security of the system.
We now live in the age of the “Interconnectedness of All Things” in which we are beginning to see the development and availability of large numbers of Internet connected devices. There is no doubt that this will lend new strength to computer-aided crime and in this new political environment we now live in, perhaps even terrorists.
Unless we develop a rational approach to the underlying security issues surrounding the Internet, and insist software companies’ stop rushing out new products with little regard for security, hackers will continue to flourish and successful attacks on computers over the internet will continue to proliferate.
There are steps that you can take to decrease the likelihood you will be the victim of a successful attack on your computer. If you reduce your exposure to successful attacks on your machine, then downstream you are helping to protect my machine and those of others.
The following is a brief guide to the basic security issues you should be aware of on the Internet, followed by a guide to some of the steps you can take to secure your computer for Internet usage.
Security risks on the Internet you need to be aware of.
- Trojan horse programs
- Back door and remote administration programs
- Denial of service
- Being an intermediary for another attack
- Unprotected Window shares
- Cross-site scripting
- Email spoofing
- Email-borne viruses
- Hidden file extensions
- Chat clients
- Packet sniffing
Security Checklist: Actions you can take to protect your computer system.
- Don’t open unknown email attachments
- Don’t run programs of unknown origin
- Disable hidden filename extensions
- Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched
- Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use
- Disable scripting features in email programs
- Make regular backups of critical data
- Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised
- Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer.
- Install a personal firewall on the computer.
- Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet.
- Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments.
The following tutorials are offered free of charge on CNET, one of the most widely respected sites on the Internet. If you are unfamiliar with basic computer security issues, I highly recommend that you visit this site.
In these interactive slideshows, CNET’s experts take you step by step through PC security best practices.
Join the discussion about spam, spyware and virus control with others in free online classrooms.