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Arun Marballi
STEPS ARE NECESSARY TO PROTECT OUR COMPUTERS
By ARUN MARBALLI

Over the last six months, we have addressed the numerous safeguards and protective measures that we need to put in place to make for a safe and trouble-free computing experience. We went from an examination of steps for maintaining the operating system to using antivirus software, using routers and firewalls, carrying out backups, defensive computing, employing smart password strategies as well as reviewing the level of physical protection required for the computers. Given the width of coverage, I would like to devote this column to recapping all the ideas that we touched upon thus far.

The first proactive action that I had recommended was incorporating monthly downloads and installs of Operating System Updates into our schedules. This action is necessary because from time-to-time vendors of operating systems discover what are called vulnerabilities in the software. These are basically errors in the highly complex operating system programming and the updates are essentially corrections for these errors. Uncorrected Operating Systems are vulnerable to being exploited by miscreants on the Internet.

The next precautionary measure is to install an anti-virus product to prevent inadvertent infection from a nasty “bug.” With the burgeoning use of the Internet, our risk of infection has significantly increased. Since new and mutated viruses (malicious software) are invading the cyberspace on a daily basis, the anti-virus software must be constantly updated. I had recommended a weekly regimen for acquiring updates to the list of virus signatures to be guarded against.

With our “always-on” broadband connections to the Internet, I recommended building protective fences with routers and firewalls. Both of these devices (hardware and software respectively) act as ever-watchful traffic cops for allowing legitimate information flow while blocking “unknown” inbound and outbound flow of data.

One of the primary uses of computers is to store and process our personal and business data. The data may be in the form of documents, pictures and audio files. The data is mainly stored on a hard drive and sometimes on secondary storage media such as CDs, Flash Drives, Media Cards, etc. Unfortunately, all storage devices, which are typically mechanical, magnetic or electronic, are subject to failure. And when these devices fail, all the data stored on them is lost. To prevent permanent data loss through storage device failure, I had recommended ensuring that all data is stored in at least two locations and to carry out regular “data-only” backups of the primary hard drive to an external hard drive.

With our increasing reliance on e-mail for conducting interpersonal and business transactions, we reviewed the common sense approach to negotiating the cyber-minefield by employing “defensive driving” techniques. “Phishing” e-mails, spam (unwanted marketing e-mail) or virulent e-mail (e-mail containing viruses disguised as attachments) are our main sources of concern. To steer clear of these I had recommended looking for the following clues -- Sender Name, Subject and the presence of attachments as possible indications of e-mail to avoid.

The importance of protecting our identity cannot be stressed enough in these days of rampant identity theft. Our User Name and Password comprises our identity in the cyberspace. Protecting these keys to our information is paramount and it all begins with establishing a sound username/password strategy and using it consistently.

Lastly, we reviewed the importance of physical protection of the computer during the storm season by utilizing combination surge-protectors and uninterruptible power supply devices for all cables and external connections that attach to our computers.

I believe that in protecting our computers and the information that they hold, being aware of the dangers is half the battle. Taking steps to mitigate these dangers is up to each and every one of us. I trust this recap provides the necessary awareness and reiterates what needs to be done.

Arun Marballi has worked in the Information Technology arena for more than 20 years with extensive experience in software development, process design and network/workstation management. For comments, questions, tips or suggestions, e-mail amarballi@hotmail.com.

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