Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Security for Me: Internet Surfing

One of the biggest problems today is to surf the Internet safely. Contrary to some may think, Internet surfing is not safe unless you personally take care of some things.

Why it is unsafe? Because you can access by mistake a site that has malicious intents and that use vulnerabilities in your browser to install on your computer some viruses or spyware, to crash your system completely or to steal your credit card information or other personal data.

So you need to make it safe...

  • First: always use the latest version of your browser. Internet Explorer is currently at version 7 for Windows XP and newer and it is still at version 6 for Windows 2000 and lower. However that one is safe too. Firefox updates more often, current version at the date of this post is Other browsers also update regularly, so check their vendor sites.
  • Second: always install the patches for your browser and you operating system. While browser patches are obvious in the sense that they fix problems with your browser, the operating system patches are not so obvious. In short, it may not be a problem with your browser at all, but a problem in your system that can be exploited via your browser.
  • Third: install an anti-spyware and an antivirus. See my article regarding those issues at http://lusutheghost.blogspot.com/2007/11/security-for-me-antivirus-programs.html
  • Forth: keep away of strange or suspicious sites. Your browser usually notifies you that a site is malicious and blocks it by default. Please read carefully what your browser is reporting before continuing. Some antispyware and antivirus software may also block some sites. Take their advice and leave that site immediately. However if the antivirus kicks in, the site is automatically blocked with no chance to continue on it, which is a good thing.

There is the myth that Internet Explorer is not as safe as Firefox. Unfortunately this is exactly backwards (but things are improving). Opera is in fact the fastest and the most secure Internet browser. Don't take my word on it (as some my say that I am a Microsoft fan...), take what experts are saying. A good article, with quality and reliable sources is http://mywebpages.comcast.net/SupportCD/FirefoxMyths.html

Another thing is to be very, very, careful when entering your credentials (passwords, credit card details etc.) in forms on various sites. Please double check the site and its intent before proceeding. There are lots of legitimate sites that for example process your credit cards in order to sell you something online, and this is good. But there are even more sites that pretend to sell you something (like man potency pills, "original" software or quality watch replicas at incredible low prices) but in fact they simply steal your information so they can empty your account. No legitimate site will ask your credit card pin code! If you encounter such site leave immediately!

Also some banks offer online banking services where you have to authenticate with either a security device (one time code generators), with security certificates or with one time scratch codes. The later are not so secure as some sites may trick you in providing the next 10 codes in order to "verify your identity". Big mistake to provide those!

Do you have any other tips? Please feel free to comment and share with everyone!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Security for Me: Antivirus Programs

I was thinking in explaining to you what an antivirus software is, but Wikipedia does it better in this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antivirus_software. It is an excellent one, take my word on it. Anyway, in short an antivirus software tries to detect and remove several types of malware. Therefore the best way to protect against such threats is to play a little defense on your own.

  • First, whenever you install an OS, do it with the network cable (if any) disconnected! (well, unless you do a network install...). Viruses are so versatile those days that they can infect your computer while it is still installing. Yes, that does happened! No kidding! How it is that possible? Easy... The OS will activate the network card so it can set it up and configure it. The firewall is usually down and there are no patches installed at this point... This is the critical point actually.
  • Second, always patch your computer! Turn on Automatic Updates in your OS! This is crucial so the updates get installed before a virus hits you on a known vulnerability. Personally, as an "advanced user" I have the Automatic Updates set to notify me about the patches but not download nor install them until I say so... This way I have a chance to review them. But I know what I am doing, and most of the people don't have a clue what a "buffer overflow that could allow remote code execution" is... So, if you fall in the second category, just leave the settings to automatic download and automatic install.
  • Third, keep your firewall running! Read my article on firewalls intro: http://lusutheghost.blogspot.com/2007/07/security-for-me-firewalls.html
  • Forth, keep the antivirus software running and up to date! Leave the automatically updates feature of the antivirus on! Read the instructions on how to do that (it is on by default anyway). Not sure what antivirus to use? Try AVG free. I am not affiliated with them in any way, but the product is good so I recommend it.
  • Fifth, virus is not the same as spyware! So keep an antispyware program running. I recommend Spybot Search & Destroy. Again, I am not affiliated...
  • And finally, keep your mouse cursor away of warning windows that pop up saying that your computer is infected so you need to download the antivirus "X" to clean it. And I mean that! There is nothing wrong with your computer. Those are misleading messages to trick you and manually download and infect yourself with a nasty piece of virus or spyware. Your antivirus software may warn you with a popup that a virus is found, BUT, it will report the file name, the virus found and will NOT instruct you to download anything!

Well... I kind of deviated from the subject, but nevertheless, this info is useful after all... So to go back to antiviruses... what defines a good antivirus? No matter which one you use, if it is up to date then it is a good antivirus! No joke about that, seriously. Keep it up to date and you won't have too much trouble...