Internet Security

Learn how to protect your computer network from the risks of the internet.

In the length of time it takes to check your email, your computer can be hacked. Most people do not fear being hacked because they think, "This is just a little home system that I use for email and surfing. It's not like I have trade secrets on my hard drive." But, what secrets do you have? Passwords? Your checking account information? Have you used a credit card for online shopping?

You would not hand a stranger the key to your file cabinet or your safety deposit box, but if you are connected to the internet without the proper protection, it is the same difference. The thief can go through all your files and collect as much personal information as he wants. Your bank account numbers, Social Security number, credit card information, and numerous other private details that you would not readily share.

Hackers can also take over your system and use your computer for other ulterior purposes, like sending people spam and viruses, cyber stalking another computer user, or launching DOS (denial of service) attacks. A DOS attack occurs when many systems flood one system with so much traffic that it cannot keep up. Shutting down a company's website this way can cost that company a lot of money. Unfortunately, it is not very difficult, since so many users are unprotected.



DSL and high speed cable users should be especially wary. Faster connections bring with them greater risk. Since your connection to the internet is "always on" it is much easier to hack your system.

HOW FIREWALLS WORK

There are different types of firewalls, software applications and hardware components, the latter of which are connected to the modem and other computers within a network. Software firewalls are compatible with the type of modem needed for a dial-up connection, and are the most commonly used type for personal computers. Hardware firewalls are normally used in the business setting to monitor networks.

For either type, the basic function is to hide the fact that your computer is there. This is referred to as "stealth mode." If hackers or bots cannot find your computer, they cannot get in. If they do happen to find your computer, because one or more ports are open, the firewall should still prevent them from gaining access, if configured properly. If someone does break into your system, he will try to get it either to send out information to others (spam, viruses, etc.) or to send your personal information to a place where he can retrieve it, and you probably won't even know it.

A firewall not only stops incoming traffic, but outgoing traffic as well. It will also keep a log of attempts to send information in or out. This will help you configure the firewall, by helping you learn which data is unrecognized, and which is safe to let in or out of your system, such as routed traffic from your ISP (internet service provider).

PROVE IT TO YOURSELF

If you still doubt that you need a firewall, take a trial version for a test run. If you dare, check the logs and see the amount of traffic that is going in and out of your system.

There are also test sites that will "ping" your computer (check to see if it is easily found and if any ports are open) and will let you know how secure -or how vulnerable- your system is. Check these test sites out carefully before using one. You can easily find plenty of reviews that will show you which sites are trusted. Using a test site provided by the manufacturer of the firewall may not convince you, so try more than one if you are unsure. Have your system tested before installing a firewall.

You will also need to test your system once the firewall is installed to find remaining vulnerabilities, if any. Open ports will show up on these tests, and you will be better able to configure your firewall. Compare the before and after tests and note the difference. Review several popular firewalls and find out which one is best suited to your needs, but read quickly, because in less time than it takes to choose a firewall your personal information can be siphoned from your system.

© High Speed Ventures 2011