Access to Internet opens a wide vista of knowledge - encyclopedias, news, views, stock quotes and a wide variety of information never before available in the entire human history. Unlike the print medium, Internet offers a complete multimedia experience. Besides it makes the world seemingly smaller by the scope for easy means of communication - emails, online chats and message boards.
Many a time the age of Internet brings a slew of downside to the unsuspecting general user. The first line of defense against any potential attack against your computer, the data contained herein or the users - is always the installation of a Firewall with fairly straightforward settings.
You start with the simple rule that unless explicitly permitted, no port or application should have access to the Net. Permit port 80 for access for all the browsers - Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firebird, Netscape Navigator, Opera or whatever your fancy has dictated you to install. But bear in mind that unless specifically allowed, the firewall rule must not allow other applications to use the allowed ports. To give an actual example, Outlook Express (the application calls itself as msimn.exe) should be permitted to access port 110 (pop3) and 143 (IMAP) in the firewall. Any lurking Trojan will not be permitted to access any other ports.
Simple precautions like these help blocking untoward access to your computers from the bad world outside. This does not of course guarantee that the firewall will block your Outlook express from sending out mails to all in your address book owing to a security hole. So keeping your applications updated is another step in the right direction. Security calls for eternal vigilance. Ask FBI if you have any doubts about this epithet.
It is probably the most used Email Client as it is bundled along with Windows 9*/2000/XP. Preview mode which is the default option in the OE, lets some malicious codes to be run without opening the email. You can disable this mode like so: Start - Outlook Express - View -> Layout and then uncheck the Show Preview Pane option and then click on Apply and OK to save this option. Remember that it is only a first step. Best technique to guard against intrusions of any kind is to develop an awareness not to open any mail from outsiders.
Even from friends, you must check that they are from the 'standard' email ids and not from manipulated ids. Grade your friends as tech-savvy and non techies. Other things being equal, trusted tech-savvy friends are likely to take extra-ordinary precautions to keep them safe from Virii or other malicious codes. So when the other group sends across attachments, do NOT open them immediately. It is much less painful to refer than suffer in silence with a Trojan onboard.
There are hardware firewalls and software firewalls to meet any possible eventuality. You can even use an old 486 Computer - configured to run as a Linux firewall off a bootable floppy or install a Windows Firewall application on your computer. Linux or any other *nix distributions come equipped to meet any exigencies arising out of the Net. But windows users will need to fork out some money to equip their machines. There is a good general-purpose firewall available free for personal use from Sygate Technologies.
Chat rooms and pubic forum have at times become the springboard for shady characters and stalkers to prowl for unsuspecting victims. It becomes imperative for the parents to enforce and enable common sense precautions in the setting up of your computers. It is surprising that few people realize the fact that most of the safe search filters are built right into the major search engines and can be activated with little effort.
In the case of the most popular Search engine of the Net - Google, all you need to do is set the SafeSearch Filtering to ' Use Static Filtering ' available in the Preferences page here: http://www.google.com/preferences After you have set, save the settings which will be saved as a cookie. This implies that every subsequent visit to the Google search Engine will return filtered search result pages - free from explicit text and images. It is essential to note that this filtering is based on the premise that most of the adult sites will use explicit language, which will trigger this filter. Most of the time, the filters are designed to make the subtle distinction between a perfectly valid image of human anatomy and a sexually explicit picture.
As is common in any human endeavor, it is not perfect always. It is wise to check for the preferences saved in your browser for any unwitting change by other users. You can read about this Google's safesearch setting
http://surfsafely.com/ is another search engine designed to keep unwanted surprises away. ICRA: 'The Internet Content Rating Association is an international, independent organization that empowers the public, especially parents, to make informed decisions about electronic media by means of the open and objective labelling of content. ' Sites labeled with ICRA could mean that it is safe from contents harmful to children. Many of the major commercial websites and other reference sites including our own has been labeled with ICRA.
Always create individual user ids for your family's members so that the main Administrator retains control over the essential settings. Keep the administrator password secure enough. As the family members will be using the computer, they will have the requisite information to decipher most of your routine password choices. Use a password with a combination of numbers and symbols to thwart any potential guess work. A reasonably secure password should use up to 8 characters with some allowed symbols and numerals.
If you have a need for more proactive filtering embedded right into your system, there are solutions available. There are some commercial products offering filtering at your computer end for password protected control of the settings. Most of the time, they use word filtering to zero in on the obnoxious sites or pages as a measure to prevent access to inappropriate content. But the flip side to the coin is, they impose a small latency period for the word filter engine to kick in and trap the inappropriate content. You may want to check out some of the sites listed below:
In the recent past, many innocuous looking freeware/ad ware software distributed ostensibly for some specific purpose like sharing of music files etc, can take on the role of a Trojan which can be activated to send information from your computer to any remote computer. These Trojans will often lurk in the background masking their names when viewed under the Task Manager. Check for the presence of such Trojans by the use of tools like Ad-Aware available here: http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/
Parental guidance and active participation is essential to see that a safety policy is defined and the necessary infrastructure is in place before a child is allowed access to a computer connected to the Net. Often a check through the browser cache will show if there is any untoward incident. Set a large enough cache for your browser to reduce the loading time. Without any involvement of the parents in curbing the menace of the wrong end of the Net, no tool - however sophisticated it may be - can alleviate the potential harm lurking behind your monitor.