The last decade has seen the Internet morph from a little-known academic and military communications network into a world-wide phenomenon. For many people around the world the Internet has become an indispensable tool, deeply integrated into everyday habits of life and work. The advent of home broadband Internet access has furthered this trend greatly.

However, having a worldwide communications network running into your home or office also has it’s disadvantages, the biggest of which is security. Very few Internet users realise how exposed the Internet”s open communications protocols leave them to people with malicious intent.

The aim of this article is to introduce you to 4 of the biggest threats on the Internet today, and to give you an idea of how to protect yourself.

Risks & Solutions

1. Exposed Ports
Network-enable computers maintain many open ports, which listen for and allow network connections with other computers. Open ports can be detected by malicious Internet users (and software) and used to attempt entry into a computer system.

Solution: Use a Firewall (such as Windows Internet Firewall or Norton Personal Firewall) to hide unused ports, reducing the risk that your computer will be discovered and attacked by online “port scanners”.

2. Viruses
Viruses come in many shapes and sizes, but can be generally defined as “software capable of reproducing itself and usually capable of causing harm to files or other programs on the same computer”.

Traditionally, viruses were unable to spread without human assistance (such as on a floppy disk), but the Internet has lead to a new generation of viruses, known as worms, which are self-propagating, and so can spread extremely swiftly.

Solution: Invest in Anti-Virus software (such as Norton Anti-Virus or Trend Micro PC-cillin) which can protect you from viruses as they emerge into the Internet. Ensure you keep your Virus Definitions files up-to-date.

3. Spyware/Greyware/Malware
Much of the “free” software available on the Internet has a hidden cost: it secretly tracks your computing actions and reports them back to a central computer. This ranges from the invasive (tracking websites you visit for marketing purposes) to the illegal (stealing credit card numbers from your keyboard as you type them in and then using those numbers to make purchases).

Other annoying features include pop-up ads, disabling of anti-virus software and reduced computer performance due to misappropriation of system resources.

Solution: Install an Anti-Spyware product (such as Spybot Search & Destroy or Lavasoft Adaware) and update it and run it regularly. Be careful of which Anti-Spyware products you install, as there are many examples of Spyware being disguised as Anti-Spyware. Spybot S&D and Adaware are tried and tested solutions.

4. Improper Internet Usage
In many cases Internet users expedite their own online demise through ignorance. If you are aware of the threats that are out there, then you can behave in ways that protect rather than expose you.

Solution: Exercise caution when using the Internet. Do not install software unless you know it is trustworthy. Be cautious when opening email attachments. Remember that email is about as secure as a postcard. Watch our for “cyber predators” when using chat and instant messaging software. Be wary of online scams.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is safe to say that the Internet is like most good tools: it is great when used sensibly and with caution. Used in any other way it can prove to be dangerous and ultimately painful.

It is also worth noting that whilst securing your system is essential, it is impossible to achieve 100% protection. In order to cover yourself against the chance that things do go wrong, it is also important to make regular backups of your system and your data.

Useful Links

Norton Personal Firewall
Norton Anti-Virus
Trend Micro PC-cillin
Spybot Search & Destroy
Lavasoft Adaware