March 2010 • Vol. 30 No. 3 | An E-Publication of the Los Angeles County Bar Association

Two-Minute Tech: Keeping Your Computer Secure

By William Jimenez, IT director at Hutchings Court Reporters, LLC. He may be reached at billj@hutchings.com.

Security is a critical component of keeping the information on your computer safe from prying eyes. Most people feel that an antivirus program is all they need to protect a computer. It is a good start, but additional precautions will help keep your computer secure.

Viruses are a diminishing part of malware—malicious software designed to infiltrate a computer. People have become very proficient at blocking viruses, especially those shared via e-mail. Because of this, malware writers are turning to other ways of infecting your computer.

One of these is by way of open doors, or ports, on your computer. While you are connected to the Internet, certain ports are open to send and receive data. Other ports are open to send and receive e-mail. Still others are open to perform other functions. Malware writers use these open ports to drop bots (Web robots that run automated attacks on networked computers), Trojans (or Trojan horses, which appear to provide a desirable function for the user but instead provide unauthorized access to the user’s computer system), and other malware on your computer. Because of this, it is critically important that you have a firewall—hardware, software, or both—on your computer. A firewall leaves the ports needed to interact with the Internet and e-mail open, but it blocks these ports from malware scanners, effectively hiding you from the “bad people.”

If you connect to the Internet through a wireless or wired router, you will probably have a hardware firewall, as these devices act to block traffic. If you are bringing your laptop to other locations, you should have a software firewall as well, since you don’t know what the firewall protection is at the place you’re connecting to. Comodo and Zone Alarm are two reliable programs.

To check how well your computer is blocking your ports, go to ShieldsUP! at https://www.grc.com/x/ne.dll?bh0bkyd2, hit Proceed, and run three tests located on the silver bar: File Sharing, Common Ports, and All Service Ports. These will tell you how well your computer is protected from port scanners, software applications designed to probe a network host for open ports and that will eventually infect a computer. If everything is blocked, your firewall is working as it should.

Since malware comes in many flavors, you should have some protection in other areas as well, which may include a malware program installed on your computer. One such program is Malwarebytes from http://malwarebytes.org/. Also, using ThreatFire will aid your antivirus program. This program can be downloaded at http://www.threatfire.com/.

Since most common programs such as Adobe and Java have security holes that get compromised, running a program from Secunia (http://secunia.com/) to search for updates and patches for programs is beneficial in keeping your protection current and properly defended against malware attacks. 

Finally, as a means of general house keeping, it is a good idea to run CCleaner (http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download) every few weeks if you notice your computer starting to slow in its operation.

Two-Minute Tech is an occasional series of short features touching on topics related to technology and litigation support. 




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