Monday, July 18, 2011

The Botnet Menace

          To begin with, a botnet is a collection of hijacked computers. Botnets are comprised of hundreds sometimes thousands of hijacked computers that are designed to coordinate spam attacks. These collections of hijacked computers are controlled by an operator that pools together the collected power of the group to wreak havoc across the web. Hackers look for the most vulnerable and unprotected computers to target their hijacking.

          Think of a botnet like a parasite, viruses are spread across the web infecting different types of hosts. The virus doesn't kill the host because it needs the host to survive and spread copies of itself. The virus then communicates with the botnet operator's command server to coordinate bursts of spam and other malicious activity. The main goal for botnet operators are to inflict financial damage or to profit from stealing personal information.

          But, how can you tell if your computer might be a bot? Some red flags to look for are strange messages in your outbox, e-mails in your inbox warning you to stop spamming and sluggish computer speed. You must react quickly to these red flags because there are consequences to leaving your computer unprotected. For example, your ISP (internet service provider) will cancel your service if they notice suspicious activity with your network. Therefore, take action by using anti-virus software and your firewall. If you notice any type of suspicious activity with your computer or online account report the issue to your ISP and the government immediately.

          However, just having anti-virus software and a firewall is nowhere near enough protection. For instance, one way hackers can get around anti-virus programs is by using social networking sites, e-mail and spoof websites to trick the user into downloading their virus. Hackers are constantly developing new strategies to cause mayhem. For instance, designing the virus to plant itself in hidden locations that make it difficult to detect and remove. In my opinion, the best way to consistently protect your computer is to keep up to date with virus news. Just being aware and up to date is a excellent prevention method. Additional prevention steps include.

  1. Download files cautiously and avoid file-sharing websites
  2. Turn on your firewall
  3. Check your inbox/outbox for suspicious mail
  4. Configure your anti-virus to scan and update automatically 
  5. Use secure unique passwords

Most importantly, slow down and think before you click. Take your time to validate sources and stick to the websites that you trust.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Keeping Data Safe While On the Go

          Balancing convenience and security is a difficult task. People like to keep their information with them and have convenient access to it at all times. But as information becomes more convenient to share and access, security risks start to increase. Here's the issue: What is the best way to conveniently access our data while keeping it secure? To solve this issue, we need to balance convenience and security. More importantly, each person needs to find a plan that fits their needs.

          To begin with, you might want to consider investing in a portable hard drive or in online storage. Portable hard drives offer a large amount of space for a very reasonable price. Because most portable hard drives come with backup and encryption software, they are a great way to keep your data safe while on the go. Another method you can use is the online storage option. The great thing about online storage is that it allows you to easily share all of your information while keeping it secure on the host's servers. Most online storage companies also charge customers based on the amount of storage that they use. In other words, you won't have to pay for any unused storage.

          Try to avoid traveling with your laptop as much as possible. This reduces the chance that it will be forgotten, stolen or dropped. On business trips that require you to travel with your laptop, make sure to keep your eyes on it at all times. Even when your laptop bag is going through security in the airport, remain alert. People are quickly scanning through your bags and you need to make sure that you pick up the right bag. Keep your laptop with you at all times. Instead of checking your laptop in luggage carry it with you in your carry on bag. If you are traveling in a car, keep the laptop out of sight when not in use.

          To provide additional security, use secure passwords to stop others from gaining access to your information. My definition of a secure password is a password that: contains at least twelve characters, uses lower case as well as upper case letters, symbols, numbers and is unique. NEVER write down your passwords and keep them in your laptop bag. If you're like me and have trouble keeping track of your passwords, consider installing a password protection program. I recommend using keepass, a free password protection program that creates an encrypted password database for all your passwords. To gain access to the keepass database you are are required to create a master password that you use to login.

          If you have to use your laptop in a public area and will be working with sensitive information, use a laptop screen guard to protect your privacy. When staying in a hotel, avoid leaving your laptop inside of your room. Hotel rooms are a common place to lose items; they also give the hotel's staff access to your belongings. If you absolutely have to leave your laptop in your hotel room, put your do not disturb sign on the door to keep the room as secure as possible.

          In the event that your laptop is misplaced or stolen, change the passwords to your network accounts immediately. In addition, inform your IT department about the situation so that they can take the appropriate measures to protect as much data as possible.  

Purchasing Products Safely on the Internet

          Shopping online is a great way to compare and buy items from the comfort of your home. However, online shopping requires the user to use personal information to buy products and services. This means that online shoppers are prime targets for hackers. To make safe business transactions over the internet, consumers need to make sure that their computers have basic security. Basic security includes an anti-virus program that is updated and scanning on a regular basis, a firewall, and secure passwords for online accounts. Keep in mind that basic security does not completely protect the user from online theft. Hackers realize that most users have some form of basic computer security and have prepared new ideas to work around the security.

          When a customer walks into a physical store, it is easier for him to verify that he is buying from a legitimate business. Unlike a physical store, online fake websites can be easily created to look almost exactly like a legitimate business website. This is why it is so important for users to protect themselves. When verifying the legitimacy of an online business, one detail that I look for is the physical address and location of the business. A quick Google search can confirm whether the online website is indeed legitimate or a fake.

          After you have done your research and gathered enough evidence to come to a decision on whether or not you would like to do business with an online store, take into consideration that your personal information is vulnerable when you transmit it to the website. To protect information online, businesses use encryption to protect your personal data as it travels across the internet. When data is encrypted, it is sent in code and can only be read using a specific key generated by the computer. Without this unique key, the encrypted message looks like a bunch of gibberish.

          You can verify that you are connected with a secure connection when you see a bright green lock that is closed on the top left side of your address bar. The exact location of this green lock can depend on the type of internet browser that you are currently using. Just because you see this green lock doesn't mean that the website and connection are guaranteed to be one hundred percent secure. Hackers are good at what they do and realize that if they post a picture of a green lock, users might be tricked into thinking that their fake website is legitimate.

          Another security measure you might want to try is to only use one credit or debit card for all of your online purchases. This is a smart tactic because you can keep a low credit limit on the credit card or a limited amount of money in the account associated with the debit card in case your information is stolen. In addition, certain credit card companies compensate customers for identity theft. Keeping track of financial records and online purchases is a great way for detecting theft and protecting your personal information. Overall, this technique is a great way to protect yourself by limiting the amount of damage if your information is stolen.

          In any case, it's best to do your research and to use your common sense before making an online purchase. Taking fifteen to twenty minutes to verify a purchase might sound like a hassle, but just think of what you might get yourself into if someone gets a hold of your money, information or both. Take your time and play it safe. Still having doubts about the legitimacy of an online business? In my opinion, you should just walk away. Try buying the product that you are looking for on a different website that you can trust.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cleaning the inside of your computer case

Required Materials

  1. Roll of paper towels
  2. Bottle of compressed air
  3. Isotropic/rubbing Alcohol (90-95%)
  4. Container of q-tips
  5. Small Table
  6. Screw driver
  7. Bathroom paper cup

Note- Due to the fact that dust will be flying everywhere, it is a good idea to take your computer outside during the cleaning process. In addition, when spraying your computer's ventilation fans, hold down the fan blades with your finger.

     This keeps the fan from spinning to fast and wearing out. Worn out fans make your computer extremely loud and annoying. To clean your computer case with the compressed air most efficiently keep the bottle in its upright position and use short concentrated bursts of air to remove dust.
I recommend that you clean your computer at least once every six months. To keep your computer clean place your computer on top of your desk to increase air circulation

Warning- Static electricity destroys computer components. Do NOT use a household vacuum to clean your computer case! When cleaning, do not stick your fingers in or around the power supply. Instead, hold down the power supply fan with your q-tip.

     Cleaning the inside of the case is important because a healthy computer needs to have good ventilation and a fresh supply of air. Computers draw in cool air from outside of the case and remove hot air generated by components out of the back of the case. After dust and other materials start to accumulate, components that produce a lot of heat do not receive the fresh supply of air they need to function. As a result, these components might overheat and cause computer failure.

Computer Case Cleaning Steps

  1. Unplug all of your computer's cables and lay them on the table.
  2. Unscrew each side panel of your computer's case so that dust can be efficiently removed and place your computer in its normal upright position on the table.
  3. Remove both side panels.
  4. With your can of compressed air, begin cleaning the top portion of your computer case and slowly move down to the bottom components. This method pushes all of the dust toward the bottom of the case and then easily removed.
  5. Make sure to cover all of the major components: the video card and its fan, the CPU, fans connected to the side panels, around the motherboard (hold down fan blades with your finger)
  6. Turn toward the back end of your computer case and blow air into all of the connectors and other end of the fan.
  7. After you have removed most of the dust spray the case from top to bottom one last time.
  8. To remove the second layer of dust take your paper towels or q-tips and lightly dab them with the alcohol. Use the paper towels to clean your computer's case and the q-tips to clean the small spaces on the inside of the case.
  9. Double check that all computer components are secure and reattach both of the side case panel.
    10. Reconnect all of your computer's connection cables.