Remember the movie Die Hard? At one point in the movie, Takagi (James Shigeta) says to Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), “You want money? What kind of terrorists are you?”
To which Gruber replies in one of the more memorable quotes from the movie, “Who said we were terrorists?”
I remind you of this because there are some that feel that the true motivation behind last week’s horrific attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was to manipulate the stock markets for financial gain.
It’s not that far fetched. Osama Bin Laden could have easily whipped his disciples into a Jihad frenzy, all the while shorting insurance companies and airlines in the days before the strike in order to make billions of dollars.
We may never know the true motivation behind the attack on America, but we can be absolutely certain of one thing: future attacks will be directed not just at innocent Americans and our physical capital, but at the nervous system of America: the internet. What better way to wreak economic havoc on our country than to cripple the internet?
This week, the Nimda virus (by the way, that’s admin spelled backwards) ushered in a new era of computer viruses. Until now, you were relatively safe from infection so long as you did not open an e-mail attachment bearing the virus. With the Nimda virus, if your computer was not protected, you were toast as soon as you previewed (highlighted) the message on your e-mail client, or as soon as you visited a web site that was infected with the virus.
I know from my conversations with friends, relatives, and acquaintances that most people are both complacent and/or ignorant when it comes to protecting their computers from viruses. Such people are potential unintentional terrorists, because their complacency and ignorance causes computer viruses to spread exponentially and allows their computers to be taken over and used to launch attacks on the internet.
I believe that as I write this, terrorists are poking and probing the internet with test viruses such as Nimda, and that the mother of all viruses has yet to be unleashed upon us. (I use the term virus in its broadest sense to include both viruses and worms.)
For that reason, I seek in this series of three columns to replace complacency with concern and ignorance with knowledge in the hopes that each of you will do your part to fight the spread of terror over the internet.
In this series, I am going to give you specific, detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to protect your computer from becoming attacked by hackers or infected with viruses.
Let’s begin with a general discussion of the weapons in the war against computer viruses. The most commonly known and used weapon is antivirus software. Amazingly, many people still access the internet without having even this fundamental tool installed and running. And those that do have antivirus software installed often have misconceptions about it that render it useless.
I recently asked a friend if his computer was protected with antivirus software? “Of course,” he replied. “It came preinstalled on my computer.”
“Do you have the auto-protect feature turned on?”, I asked.
I was greeted with a blank stare. You see, many assume that just because antivirus software was installed, that it was activated. They do not know that the software has to be configured to automatically start up every time you start up your computer. They are running their computers completely unprotected, even though they have antivirus software installed.
“And how often do you update your virus definitions?” I asked.
I was greeted with another blank stare. Sadly, this is a common misperception — that once you install antivirus software, you are now and forever protected against any virus that is ever developed. While it is true that the latest releases of some antivirus software packages have the ability to automatically update your virus definitions when you log on to the internet, you still have to configure the software to do this. And if your software package does not automatically update your virus definitions, you have to remember to do this manually, every day, twice a day. That’s right — twice a day.
Which brings us to the third problem: most people don’t take the time to configure their antivirus software properly. Did you know that your antivirus software has to be configured to check your incoming e-mail for viruses? There are millions of people out there who think they are protected from e-mail borne viruses, when in fact they are not because they never configured their antivirus software properly.
Another important weapon in the fight against computer terrorism is a firewall. A firewall prevents hackers from hacking your computer and either using it to launch attacks on the internet, or stealing important data from your computer. There are two types of firewalls: hardware and software. The use of firewalls is especially important if you have a broadband “always on” connection to the internet because your computer is at risk whenever it is turned on.
Policies and Procedures
The third important weapon against viruses is the policies and procedures you put in place relative to using your computer(s) on a day to day basis. These are equally as important as the other weapons I have mentioned. For example, having the best antivirus software in the world is of little use if you do not keep it up to date.
The fourth important weapon against viruses is communications. For example, if you have more than one computer in your house, or multiple users of one computer, you must communicate your policies and procedures to all users and make sure they are rigidly followed. This is especially critical if you have several computers on a home network, because if one of them gets infected, the others will likely get infected as well.
In part two of this series, I will discuss antivirus software and firewalls in more detail. I will recommend specific products, and tell you how to configure them.
In part three of this series, I will offer specific policies and procedures you should follow to prevent your computers from becoming infected. I will tell you how to protect yourself in light of the fact that most viruses are already widely “distributed” before your antivirus software vendor develops a way to inoculate you against them. I will also discuss the importance of communications in more detail.