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Years ago, the first users of email could have never imagined that software threats could reach them through amber-colored characters of the black and white dumb terminals sitting on their desks. I remember being amazed when a customer asked me what my email address was when I was working at a large American Telco. I was surprised that someone outside of what I thought as an internal corporate mail system could actually send me a message.

These days we can get music, pictures, links to information on the internet, documents of various types, and even videos through our email accounts. But just like anything, it seems there is always someone looking to twist something good into something else for personal gain or some sort. The first computer viruses started coming out in the 1980s as people with some software programming skills wrote software applications that would attack their prey in an effort to take down the system or delete data.

As time has passed, these attacks have become more complex and more harmful. Operating systems (Ie. Windows)can be rendered inoperable, files can be deleted, self-propagating virus applications can infect machines and send their payload to our contact lists, false fronts to our bank accounts, wicked websites can install software on our or on-line payment systems can steal our account information and eventually money; the list goes on and on with time. What can we do to protect ourselves by protecting our computers?

1) Turn on that firewall. With Window XP, a software firewall feature is built in standard. Go to the control panel and enable the firewall application. A firewall in technology works like a firewall in buildings; it keeps the nasty things outside and protects those on the inside. A technology firewall keeps people from attacking your computer through the internet once you have connected it.

2) Keep you computer up-to-date- Whether your running Windows or Apple Computer’s OS X (X is pronounced “ten”) you should be updating your OS (operating system) at least once a week. Both Microsoft and Apple OS’ provide an automatic setting for updates in Windows XP and OSX. We recommend that you set it to check daily.

3) Install Virus protection software. This is a must for anyone who connects to the internet or receives files in any way (Ie. Via CDs, USB Memory sticks, or even the floppy disks of yesteryear. The most popular software is Norton Antivirus by Symantec. We tested several applications and have found it to be better than Mcafee and most of the other options in that the definitions files are updated frequently and it seems to get viruses that Mcafee misses. There are also free options like AVG software for PC users. It inserts a “scanned by” note at the end of every email which might be an irritation to some users. For OSX, there really isn’t a good anti-virus application. But then again, most OSX users don’t use them. This is the area to watch as someone may write a virus software to attack Mac in the coming months and pop the Mac user’s sense of security bubble.

4) Run your login to your computer as a “limited user”, not as an administrator. In Windows, the administrator can install whatever they want whenever they want. This combined with websites that try to install software when you open them in your web browser is trouble. Most likely, your computer will be infected with Spyware (software that tracks your actions) or worse yet, key stroke logging software. This software logs every keystroke that you make and sends it back to another computer for thieves to get into your bank accounts, payment systems, or online shopping profiles. This is not an issue for an OSX user. But passwords are for a purpose, if you have a hard time remembering your passwords then we recommend that you get an application like Passwords Plus to help you keep track of all account information.

5) Beware of public computers! Although, Internet Caf?s and other computers that are accessible to the masses are convenient they are also extremely dangerous. It is very possible that whatever you type (ie. Logins and passwords, access to your accounts) will become available to someone else.

6) Install Microsoft’s Windows Defender to protect your computer from spyware. This is the best tool on the market and its free. Windows Defender deletes spyware and allows you to authorize what software runs on your machine while you are using it.

Overall, Apple’s OSX provides a more stable, secure, and user-friendly computer. However, 90% of the world is on Windows from Microsoft so there are fewer software titles to compare with the vast Windows library. If you need a computer mainly for personal use; email, music, pictures, browsing the web. Then Apple to the way to go. For those who are connecting back to a corporate network through a VPN(Virtual Private Network) it would be probably wise to go with a Windows machine at this point.

If you are reading AINEO Insights and are not sure about your organization’s network, please contact AINEO Networks here.

Keep watching AINEO Insights for more valuable points to make sense of technology.

© 2006 AINEO Corporation
Written by Spencer Wolfe
Contributions by AINEO Technical Support