Sun, Apr 19, 2009 - Page 13 News List

How to protect your PC

By Bill Husted  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ATLANTA

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If someone offered to build a house for you that was completely safe from burglars, you’d know they were either mistaken or lying.

It’s the same when it comes to adding protection to make your computer completely safe. It just can’t be done.

But that doesn’t — and shouldn’t — stop you from doing your best. It’s smart to do what you can, but remain aware you’re never totally out of danger.

All this has been on my mind because of news stories recently — among them one about Canadian researchers who found a giant network of Chinese hackers who had tapped into computers worldwide, including one owned by the Dalai Lama.

Then there’s the highly sophisticated Conficker worm that’s been in the news recently. Those threats were created by sophisticated computer criminals and can’t be stopped completely. But there are things you must do to protect your computer against those who are just as malicious but not quite as talented.

Firewall

That’s the No. 1 line of defense — the equivalent of a deadbolt on your front door. Starting with Windows XP and continuing with Vista, the free firewall supplied with Windows is actually pretty good.

Since it’s built into Windows, there is little chance it will interfere with the operation of your computer. Take a moment to make sure your firewall is turned on. If you don’t know how to go about that, just type the word “firewall” into your Windows search menu.

NAT

Those letters stand for Network Address Translation. If you want to know how it works, go to this Web address: tinyurl.com/ehmmh. All you really need to know is that NAT also provides security.

Luckily, computer routers usually have NAT protection built in. So if you have a computer network, you already have this added layer of protection that lets your computer hide behind the router.

Malware protection

I’m using the term malware because I want to include spyware, adware, viruses, worms and other stealthy threats used by hackers to take over your computer. I know it sounds basic, but you must use good programs to check for all these threats.

I’ve listed many of them in the past and don’t have the space to list the programs again. There are both good free and commercial programs.

Many readers, unwilling to go through the uncertainty and hassle of tracking down free programs, might be well-served to just pay the price for commercial protection from Symantec, McAfee or other providers. Check online reviews at cnet.com or pcworld.com for the best performers.

Once you add a program, keep it updated. Also regularly update Windows. As was true in the case of Conficker, Microsoft regularly issues patches to combat new threats.

One handy thing to know: If your anti-virus programs or Windows won’t update, that’s a sign that malware is active in your computer, blocking the update.

No software needed

One of the best defenses is common sense. Many threats are implanted in your computer from suspect Web pages. So avoid X-rated sites, hacker sites and Web sites that offer access to free versions of songs and commercial software.

Many sites offering free games are both well-done and amusing — along with being danger spots for adware and spyware.

Also be wary of e-mail attachments. Even a sender you know and trust could unknowingly send along something harmful. Ignore e-mails with attachments from people you don’t know.

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