The Internet is a wonderful resource which can provide you with an easy way to bank, shop and communicate on a global level, but you do need to remember that every time you connect to the Internet you are sharing a vast network with millions of other computer users, and whenever a resources is shared on this kind of scale it is bound to be open to abuse. Internet abuse typically comes in the form of hackers, fraudsters, identity thieves and malware creators, and these unscrupulous users set out to take advantage of, and cause chaos for other Internet users, so it is important that you protect your computer against online threats by installing an effective Internet security system.
What is an Internet Security System?
Internet security systems will vary from computer to computer, but home users should be aiming to have at least two up to date security software packages in place before they connect to the Internet, which should include a good antivirus software suite and an external or integrated firewall. If you run a website or store files online then you will also have to consider the security levels of your host, as your important data will be held on their data servers and this could include some confidential information such as banking and address details of both your own business and that of your customers.
One of the most prevalent online threats for computer users is malware, which covers a number of malicious programs designed to you’re your computer or compromise your personal security including viruses, worms, keyloggers, rootkits and trojans. These harmful programs can attack your computer from a variety of different sources online including infected email attachments, dirty links, infected websites and malicious code hidden inside online downloads. It is impossible to protect 100% against the vast amount of malware circulating the Internet, and it is estimated that as many as 300 new versions of malware appear online every month, but you can greatly reduce the risks of this harmful form of software attacking your computer or personal security by installing one of the latest antivirus software packages on your system.
Antivirus software protects your computer by scanning the files and folders in two main ways:
• Signature Scanning – this is the most effective scanning method and is used by all of the leading antivirus software releases, and basically scans your system and compares your files against a database of millions of known virus and other malware. When the scanner identifies a signature from the database in your system it will isolate the file and either clean it to remove the malicious code, or delete it completely from your computer. If you have set your antivirus scanners to manual then any suspicious files will be picked up and isolated in a quarantine window for you to deal with when the scan has finished. Signature scanning only works if the malware signature is recorded in the database, and this is why it is important to choose an antivirus software package that offers real time updates as this will ensure every time a new virus is identified it is listed in the database instantly, providing you with the most up to date protection available against online threats.
• Behavioral Scanning – this is also known as heuristic scanning, and aims to identify malware by looking for files that are behaving in a suspicious manner. This type of scanning provides a useful way to pick up those malicious programs that are able to disguise their signatures and mimic legitimate files, which can often be missed by the signature scanning method. However it can be difficult to identify exactly which files are acting suspiciously so behavioral scanning can trigger a number of false reports’, and less experienced computer users may find it very tricky determining which are the real threats and which are just normal files.
Antivirus software can also scan emails, downloads, CD-Roms, DVDs and other devices before you load them onto your computer, and this can provide a very effective way of detecting and destroying potentially harmful files before they do any damage to your system.
Firewalls are a relatively new introduction to home computer software but have been used by businesses for a long time to provide a first line defenses against not just malware but hackers as well. Firewalls work by monitoring the data ports through which your computer sends and receives information over the Internet, and will identify and block any potentially harmful code from accessing your system. Firewalls provide a very effective level of protection against malware when used in conjunction with antivirus software, and are also one of the key defense you will have against hackers, something which antivirus software alone will not protect you against.
External firewalls are items of hardware that are connected to your computer, and this provide the best level of defense against potentially harmful online traffic as they provide a physical barrier against incoming code preventing it from accessing your computer, but this is also the most expensive form of firewall. You can get cheaper integrated software versions of firewalls which you can load onto your computer, and these provide a good level of defense and are often combined with antivirus software into one effective Internet security package.
You can also get two-way firewalls that not only block incoming data to your computer, but outgoing data as well, and this is an effective protection against spyware that records personal information about you such as your online browsing habits (from within your computer) to transmit to third parties.
Additional Internet Security Measures
You can also get a number of other security measures which can be used in conjunction with your antivirus and firewall software and these include programs like Pop Up Blockers’, which are cheap and easy to install in your Yahoo! or Google toolbars, and prevents pop ups from appearing automatically on your screen when you visit websites. Although pop ups are not harmful in themselves, they are annoying and they can contain bad links which direct you to websites full of malware and scams. Another useful software add-on is a Browser Shield, and these are sometimes offered as part of antivirus software packages, and work by scanning ahead to websites you have clicked on, and alerting you if there are any potential security issues with the website before you open up any of the pages.
Internet Security Guidelines
The old saying prevention is better than the cure’ is a key point to remember when using the Internet and you can reduce the risks of compromising your computer security by following some best practice guidelines on surfing online safely, and this will help you to avoid the common pitfalls. Here are just a few tips to help you reduce the risks of online threats:
• Hoaxes and Scams – take the time to learn more about common online and email hoaxes and scams using resources such as McAfee’s virus information library and Vmyths, and this will help you to identify potential threats quickly when you come across them. Remember that if something sounds too good to be true then it usually is, so if you receive an unsolicited email telling you that you have won an amazing prize in a draw or lottery you never entered in the first place, then it is almost certainly a scam message and you should ignore it and delete it straight away.
• Email Security – email is one of the common ways in which viruses and malware are circulated so make sure you have your spam filters set on your email account, as this will help weed out unsolicited and potentially harmful messages, and never open attachments unless you have scanned them first and are sure they are from a legitimate source. If you do need to receive a large amounts of emails and attachments through work or from other sources then you should consider setting your email client to read plain text only (in Outlook go to Tools/Options/Mail Format) or use a plain text (non HTML) reader such as Eudora, as this will help prevent EXE file viruses and malware from activating when you open and read the email.
• Safe Downloads – make sure you use your antivirus software package to scan all online downloads before you open them on your desktop, and also take the time to read the licensing agreement thoroughly to ensure that you know exactly what you are downloading. This is especially important if you are downloading freeware such as screensavers and smileys, as these programs can often contain additional code such as malware and adware which can invade your privacy and compromise your security.
• Patches and Updates – make sure you are using a recent version of your operating system and update all the latest security patches when they become available. This will help to protect you from those hackers and malware programs that seek to exploit vulnerabilities in your software.
• Back Up – if you hold a lot of important files on your computer then it is a good idea to back them up to another source such as a professional online back up provider or an external hard drive, just in case you computer is infected with harmful viruses and malware and becomes so non operational.