So You Think Your Computers Are Safe?
The Issue: Computers are indispensable business and personal communications tools, with the operative word being indispensable. When your computer system crashes (that’s, when, not if), the effect on your business and personal lives is that of a maliciously placed Monkey Wrench. But when that unhappy effect is caused by the Internet security systems that are supposed to prevent that very thing from happening, insult is added to injury.
WARNING! Beware of Internet Security Schemes
What I Think: I learned that bitter lesson late Monday last week, when one of the three internet security systems I’d downloaded in recent months based on impressive advertising claims proved to be less than I’d bargained for: a lot less.
In this case, I was running a “free” trial version of one that I’ll call “Monkey Shines Security,” and just that morning had decided not to buy the paid version. So when on receiving an online message asking for my money for the upgrade, I declined. An hour later, however, a Monkey Shines popup appeared warning that a virus had been detected on my computer, and suggesting removing it by clicking “Here” or phoning a Customer Service 800#.
Not only did clicking “Here” produce no result, nothing else worked either! I couldn’t even get rid of that warning message! It just sat there insolently blocking three-quarters of my monitor , preventing access to any part of my computer system. When I dialed the 800-number listed, the Customer Service rep was no help.
The only thing to do was take the computer to someone who knew which end was up. The next morning I lugged my PC to a local computer store—owned and operated by an SBO who is a savvy computer tech. By mid afternoon the verdict was in: My computer was so riddled with viruses the only thing to do was to save and remove my essential programs; then get rid of the rest and scrub the hard drive before reloading my essential systems and loading new security and virus-blocking programs that the store owner trusted and knew to be effective. I told him to go ahead.
That was Tuesday; it was Friday before the work was done and I could retrieve my computer. I spent the rest of the day, a good part of the evening and the following morning restoring my programs and settings to something approximating their former selves.
I made those points to make this one: Though he would not be quoted for attribution, the storeowner told me things that computer hackers do not want people to know:
- Many if not most online security systems have one main objective: taking your money; providing security is secondary. As we’ll see, some are even designed to hi-jack personal information and banking data!
- Hackers are so prevalent, malevolent and aggressive (and so adept at networking among themselves) that even nationally known computer security providers can’t possibly keep up with them. In fact one major brand is up to its ears in a class-action suit by users who’d been burned as I’d been, or worse.
- When a 1996 “Hackers’ Convention” in Roanoke VA left town, the city’s computers were so badly screwed up it took weeks and many, many dollars to set things right. Why did those little so-and-so’s do it? Because they could!
- Someone in Red China—reportedly at the behest of the government–recently hacked into the White House computers. It’s called “spying!”
Even though your computer is infected, you may not realize you have a virus (or viruses!) until you notice something is not quite right. The computer storeowner described signs of trouble:
- A gradual slowing down of normal computer functions, such as system start-up and shut down and opening programs and files.
- Your printer doesn’t work.
- Unusual Error messages appear regularly.
- Your computer crashes regularly.
- Your computer restarts by itself regularly.
- Drives on your computer appear inaccessible.
What can you do to avoid trouble?
- Keep up-to-date anti virus software running at all times on your computer.
- Use a Firewall to keep hackers from breaking into your computer. Some good firewalls are Windows XP, Windows Vista , ZoneAlarm and Outpost.
- Never open email attachments from unknown senders, especially attachments with .exe extensions.
- Be careful opening an email attachment even from someone you know as they may not know it’s carrying a virus.
- Never allow employees to open ANY file attachments sent to company computers-the same goes for yourself and family members on your personal computers. Make that rule stick with suitable penalties.
- Keep up-to-date about recent threats through Internet research.
- Download only from reputable sites and avoid downloading files you can’t be sure are safe. These may include freeware, screensavers, games and any other executable files.
- Backup! Backup! Backup! No anti-virus product can guarantee a virus-free computer; new versions are cropping up all the time. And a backup system: “Carbonite” is a good one, and an excellent investment.
- Avoid computer systems claiming they provide “all the security protection you’ll need.” Install trusted anti-virus and anti-spy ware security systems from different vendors. What one misses, the other might catch.
Maybe most important: Find a computer repair business with at least a ten-year track record for smart, heads-up work and honesty. That’s what I did. Yet it was still a lousy week for business—with insult added to injury when the security I’d been trusting let me down; but I did learn a thing or two.
Saving the Worst for Last
Get set for the scariest Internet security horror story of all! One or more viruses that can infect your computer system will then attempt to inflict even worse damage. Consider the following form sent by an unknown virus to AOL users, with an AOL logo at the bottom of the screen:
Safety, Security & Privacy
Helping you have a more safe and secure online experience.
Dear AOL Member, your billing information is currently out of date and must be updated. Please take time to fill the required fields to avoid account cancellation.
First Name / Last Name / Address / City / Zip Code / Phone Number /
Card Number / Card Type / Expiration Date / CVV2# / ATM Pin#
Bank Name / Routing Number / Account Number
Account Type / Driver’s License Number
Social Security Number / Mother’s Maiden Name / Date of Birth
Next (click here)
If that message ever makes it to your computer screen, clicking “Next” delivers all your personal and banking information into the hands of some very nasty people. Even for those wary enough not to click “Next,” that form cannot be removed without reformatting your hard drive.
Yes. It is that bad…and that sickening.
What Do You Think? Your comments are welcome. Have you registered?
Bill Willard is a freelance writer in Clearwater FL. He has been a high-impact writer and editor for over 30 years. In addition to his byline pieces, Bill’s beat includes ghostwriting and editing for businesses of all types and sizes, professional practitioners and individuals, and he is a www.thefreestyleentrepreneur.com Contributing Author.
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