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Beverly High School Class of 1960

Viruses, Hoaxes, Spyware, Antidotes,
Wireless Network Security

Practical Information You Can Use



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You Can Look Up
Threats & Hoaxes
Here!


McAfee Virus Info Page       

       Symantic (Norton) Security Alert Page
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ON THIS PAGE

Wireless Networks
MS Software Vulnerabilities
Using Antivirus Software
Hoaxes
Spyware
Free Spyware Antidotes



Thoughts on Wireless Network Security

If you do not have security on your wireless network, total strangers driving down the road in front of your house may be able to access information on your computers. At the very least they can access the internet using your internet access point. Either of these situations potentially can cause you massive problems.

I have Netgear wireless equipment, so I may not know exactly what you see on your screen when you are controlling your own router and network cards. Following is a rundown of what I do for security on my network.

Most important of all:
Change the default password for access to your wireless router.

Next most important:
Add security to your network. The security options choices I see for my Netgear router are (1) none, (2) WED, (3) WPA-PSK (TKIP), (4) WPA2-PSK (AES), and (5) WPA-PSK (TKIP) + WPA2-PSK (AES). I choose (3) as adequate for my purposes, plus this is the highest level of security that my wireless cards will support. WED (2) has some known loopholes. In general, the more security you add the slower the network becomes. Whether or not this really makes any difference depends on what you are doing. For all options except (1) I have to give a passphrase (password). This is the piece of information that someone trying to access your network needs...pretty important to keep it confidential. If you forget your password you can re-setup your router from scratch. It would be nice if you made a note of all the changes you make so you can make them over again if necessary.

Disable the wireless portion of your network:
Disable the wireless portion of your network except for those times when you actually need wireless. Why keep a wireless network up and running when it isn't needed? The downside of this is that you are constantly accessing your router. Each access should only take a few moments, however, and this is the securest thing you can do.

Change the default network name:
Your network may have the default name Linksys1, for example. Change it to something else. Netgear calls this field the SSID. Why let the general public know what kind of equipment you have?

Disable broadcasting the SSID:
There is no reason to do this. This tells the world the name of your network. You do not need the SSID broadcasted even when setting up a new wireless card, because you already know the SSID value.

Do you really need to broadcast at full power?
Experiment with any extended coverage settings you might have. Why broadcast on full power unless you need it to reach your own furthest device?

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.

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MS Software Vulnerabilities

Microsoft Corp. has notified the public that there currently are critical vulnerabilities in the Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows 2003 operating systems. We encourage you to promptly visit Microsoft's website at:

http://www.microsoft.com/security/security_bulletins/20040210_windows.asp


Read their recommendations regarding measures you can take to address these vulnerabilities. Note: I am sure there are more recent notices than that one - look around on the Microsoft website.

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Using Antivirus Software

Intro: Almost every virus will be detected and handled by recent versions of popular antivirus software, which everyone should be running on their computer. Mainstream virus software (McAfee, Norton) is now sold with a year's worth of free updates of software and virus data. Free virus definition updates usually are still available after the year is up.

Viruses & Your Address Book: Many viruses take advantage of weaknesses in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. They replicate on your system and send themselves to everyone in your address book. When you receive a virus from what seems to be a friend's email address, this is probably what has happened on your friend's system. Your friend will not be aware this has happened, and it may happen over and over again. I personally have received over 25 infected messages from the same email address in a single day. If you carefully examine the sender's email address you will probably discover it is not precisely accurate.

Please keep in mind that using a computer online and communicating with friends without current, up-to-date, antivirus software is really irresponsible behavior. Keeping your antivirus software up to date, and performing complete system scans periodically is the best way to keep you and your cyberfriends protected and happy.

Virus Detection and Prevention Tips:

      McAfee Tells You How to Protect Yourself

      Email Vulnerability Discussion from Symantic


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Hoaxes

Hoaxes: A common hoax forwarded by email is the virus warning. It usually says this particular virus is not detectable by Norton (Symantec) or McAfee antivirus software. That's your tip-off right there. Consider...if a virus is as deadly as claimed, then it would be on the TV news. That's just common sense, wouldn't you say? Hoaxes are annoying, get you and friends all upset, clutter up everyone's In Box, and dilute the effect of legitimate virus related issues and threats. So-called correction information contained in the warning often has you deleting a perfectly valid file from your operating system. Please check out hoax warnings you receive before passing them on to someone else.

Virus and virus hoax information can always be checked out on the Internet. It is easy, and only takes a few minutes, yet few bother to do it. You can use the following links I have provided for this. You can safely consider all warnings you receive by email chain-letter style hoaxes until you check them out yourself. A good rule of thumb is that email from people you know (except me, of course [grin]) will not give you valid virus warnings. Real virus warnings will never show up in your email.

      McAfee Tells You About Hoaxes

      Symantic Tells You About Hoaxes



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Spyware - You're Kidding, Right?

As Tony Soprano might say, "It's something hiding in your computer that rats you out to people you never even heard of." It is a software genre that is a paranoid's dream. Yes, your computer really may be watching you and letting others know.

According to McAfee it is, "Any product that employs a user's Internet connection in the background without their knowledge, and gathers/transmits info on the user or their behavior. Many spyware products will collect referrer info (information from your web browser which reveals what URL you linked from), your IP address (a number that is used by computers on the network to identify your computer), system information (such as time of visit, type of browser used, the operating system and platform, and CPU speed.) Spyware products sometimes wrap other commercial products, and are introduced to machines when those commercial products are installed." (per McAfee Glossary)

According to Symantic it is, "Stand-alone programs that can secretly monitor system activity. These may detect passwords or other confidential information and transmit them to another computer. Spyware can be downloaded from Web sites (typically in shareware or freeware), email messages, and instant messengers. A user may unknowingly trigger spyware by accepting an End User License Agreement [EULA] from a software program linked to the spyware." (Symantic (Norton) Security Glossary)

I recently rescued a laptop for a customer after CompUSA told her the hard drive had been rendered unusable by a serious virus infection. It turned out it had been rendered almost unusable by an amazing (count them) 633+ spyware threats...may be a new world record. Anti-virus software won't identify spyware as a virus, because it isn't. In this case, a few minutes after booting the system, spyware programs kept trying to connect to the Internet. Popup windows appeared, one after another, all with the message, "Cannot find your Internet provider." They happened in quick succession until there was 12 to 18 windows, then the system crashed. I use a program called Spybot to handle this type of threat. It is classified as freeware and can be downloaded off the Internet. I have a copy running on every one of my active in-house computer systems.

"Spyware is hidden software (supposedly) surreptitiously installed on your computer that collects information and sends it to the author/organization." Source: The Parasite Economy, Damien Cave.

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Spyware - Here's Some Free Help

Here is a site for general information on the spyware problem: SpyWare Info.

Here is the SpyBot Home Page. I like this program. It is developed and supported by a small company in Germany, and I guess I feel affinity for a fellow developer. Click Download and look for "Spybot - Search & Destroy 1.3" - this is free, but it would be nice to send this guy $10-20 bucks if you try it out and like it after using it for awhile. You will not get a crippled version of the program if you don't - the program is free with no strings. I've been using it for months [as of 1/10/05] and like it a lot. However, it doesn't recognize all problems. Somewhere on his website he mentions using another free program called "Ad-Aware. I took this as quite an endorsement (see next paragraph).

Here is the Ad-Aware Home Page. The Ad-Aware Personal version is completely free with no strings attached. If you pay a little money you get the feature where the software looks at all incoming stuff to see if it is adware, spyware, malware, etc, in real-time just like anti-virus software. Real-time notification is really not necessary for the average internet surfer, as long as both Spybot and Ad-Aware are run every couple of days or so, especially when one suddenly gets a rash of pop-ups or degraded performance.

AFAIK, the only downside of correcting errors found with these programs is that certain things, such as toolbars added to your browser from internet downloads may no longer work. There are other things, some music downloads for example, but all come off the internet. It's these so-called "free" downloads that are the major reason one's computers ends up with spyware in the first place. The help section in these programs will explain this better than I.

In view of that comment I must tell you that I trust the two free downloads I've recommended here.

01/18/05: Windows XP Tip: I've been researching solutions to my popup problem and discovered that surfing the internet as a user with system administration privileges causes more problems than surfing as a "Guest." Simply activate the "Guest" account and surf signed on as Guest. For Internet Explorer optimum settings, see suggestions for preference settings on the SpyWare Info site mentioned above.

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