Download Safe?

Is it safe to go there?

Have you asked yourself whether the web-links you are following are safe or do they contribute to the problems you are having on your computer?

The answer is that some are fine, some sites contribute to your problems, and some are just plain nasty.

You have been directed to this page because I found that a link I wanted to recommend tried to install something on my computer that I didn't want.

What can you do about it?

You have a choice. You can contribute to the problem by naively ignoring it, or you address the issue by protecting yourself and be a good on-line citizen.

This is not a technical issue. You don't have to know how to change the oil in your car. If you drive, you know that the oil has to be checked and changed regularly.

Similarly, you can purchase the recommended tools, install them, and maintain them.

  • Most of the tools below can be downloaded from the Internet. Or you can go to your local computer store for recommendations.
  • If you can't seem to manage the installation, there are the product help lines, local geeks, and computer stores to help. Everyone in the computer industry has an interest in keeping your machine clean so that it won't attack anyone else.
  • Maintenance is even easier. The tools today are smart. They can update themselves if you tell them to.
  • Or contact me for more specific advice at
Currently, I break down the protection tools that homeowners need into five categories:
  • Operating System Maintenance (keeping your operating system patched)
  • AntiVirus (some protection from viruses, worms, and Trojan horses)
  • Firewall (some protection from hidden Internet communications)
  • Spy blockers (some protection from hidden programs doing other things you don't want done)
  • Common sense. (more later)

Some Tools do more than one, but I recommend separate programs that specialize in one thing.

Recommended Tools

These are not the only tools. They are simply ones I know that can do the job. If you want to add any to this list, let me know but I can't promise to do an in-depth evaluation.

Rather than say these are all your choices, links are provided for you to search out more information.

Operating System Maintenance

This is the cheapest tool today, and probably the most important. Most of you use Microsoft, so I'll focus on that.  Other operating systems have the same problem, but because their use isn't as common, they aren't the focus for the hackers.

Microsoft maintains a website that documents the problems (called vulnerabilities) and solutions (called patches). To maintain your operating system, simply go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com where you should allow it to check your version and it will tell you what patches if any are available.  I recommend allowing them to install the software to check which patches you have and the actual recommended security patches. (Other updates are not necessary.)

The first time you go, it make take more than one visit since some patches require the computer to be rebooted before it completes. This is ok.

You can also allow them to install a program on your computer that will allow them to send you updates as you need them. I recommend this, if you use COMMON SENSE. See below.

Remember that Microsoft will not send you email that includes patches. See COMMON SENSE below.

AntiVirus

These are the most common tools used today and many brands are available. I use Computer Associates' eTrust at home. The different sites I work at use different packages that are all effective. I just don't know how much effort it takes to maintain them.

eTrust is available on-line from http://www.my-etrust.com/index.cfm. You can purchase it alone or as part of a package that includes a firewall. With the recent nasties and because I use a cable modem, I've set the update to every eight hours.

Firewall

Think of neighbor thieves who know on doors to see if anyone is home and then walk in if no one answers. What is a firewall? See here. Two types of firewalls are common. One is hardware and installs as a separate box between your modem and your computer. The other is software and installs on your computer. I use both. If you aren't connected to a full time connection such as a cable modem, I recommend one on your computer. Information on both is provided below.  Here you get more than one recommendation, because I go back and forth between different ones.

eTrust Firewall is a software package available on-line from http://www.my-etrust.com/index.cfm. You can purchase it alone or as part of a package that includes an antiVirus package. 

Zone Alarm is a software package available on-line from http://www.zonealarm.com. You can use the freeware version or pay for the professional version. Check out their recommendations about how to set it up and why.

Many communication component companies have hardware firewalls.  One advantage of the hardware version is that the knocking on the door is stopped before it affects your computer's performance. Check out these two sites if interested:

Spy Blocker

I didn't consider this type of tool necessary until my granddaughter downloaded Kazoo! and her computer telephoned out to a military installation in the Indian Ocean. It also installed software that tracked her internet use and downloads. Her complaints were that the computer was now too slow and every site she went to sent her a dozen popup ads. So I researched and found that PC Magazine recommended Spybot, a freeware tool.  I couldn't find a better one, so I sent them a donation as thank you.

Spybot-S&D is available on-line from http://www.safer-networking.org/  (If you go to spybot.com, it will hijack you to pcsecuritynews.com.) I recommend a donation so they will continue to do good work and support the package.  Set it up for updates if you can, or once a month or however often you dust as part of your regular housekeeping, go out and check for updates.

Common Sense

Ah, common sense. The hardest tool to apply and no one can provide it but you. Here are some pointers.

  • Keep up to date on patches, fixes, or whatever the software developer calls them. Other than virus updates, you might just add it to your housekeeping list.
  • AntiVirus packages require frequent updates. Some packages came out with two updates in one day during a recent surge in nasties. Once a week is minimum.
  • Turn on your protections and leave them on. Use them. Have them check for all incoming and outgoing files.
  • Make sure that the security certificates in your browsers are updated. [Microsoft will do this for IE when you update at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.] This allows you to confirm that it is really Microsoft or whomever that is offering to install an update. If the certificate gives you a warning or the company name doesn't match the product your are trying to install, refuse the product and contact their Customer Support.
  • Microsoft and other venders will not send email attachments for you to execute. Neither will your ISP (Internet Provider) without your prior agreement. Ignore them. These are a new version of what is called 'human engineering' by the virus and worm writers.
  • Configure your system so you know what the extension is when you see a file name. [Open My Computer or Windows Explorer. In the menus at the top, select Tools, then Folder Options. On the View tab, make sure that "hide file extensions for known file types" is not checked.] Now you will be able to tell whether your best friends are sending an executable or zip file that might contain a virus or is a photo of their pet.
  • If you get a zip file in a message that includes the password, discard the message. People who take the trouble to zip a file will send the password in a different message. This is the latest in 'human engineering' by the nasties.
  • If you exchange files regularly, make a habit of verifying the file on a second email.  When I'm sending something, I tend to send a second message saying that the other message included an attachment and explain. When I get one unexpectedly, I check with the sender.
  • Housekeeping to perform monthly:
  • Update as needed any software that hasn't happened automagically.
  • Run Spybot and your anti-virus package against all hard drives.
  • Defragment your hard drives.
  • Copy off to floppies or writeable CDs your most important data files. Or exchange them by email (password zipped) with a friend who you provide backup for.

Judy Bramlage, 2004



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Modified October 31, 2009