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Security Checklist

A quick run through of procedures for securing your machine.

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This is a quick run through of procedures for securing your machine. The list can of course grow as further risks are discovered. [Note: this is very basic stuff.]

Email Threats

For starters, make sure your Windows configuration displays all file extensions. Microsoft has this turned off by default because they believe you are stupid. Prove them wrong and turn it back on.

As Microsoft Outlook is a major victim and a major cause of trouble, consider using another email client, and make sure the client is not dependent on IE technology. Even webmail is better suited. Once you get rid of that Outlook address book a lot of worms will be lost.

Turn off Java and JavaScript everywhere. If you run them in your email client you should have your head examined. Even on the web this can be dangerous: It is childishly simple for a malicious website to write to your AUTOEXEC.BAT, force you to reboot by crashing your machine, and on reboot automatically wipe your entire hard drive clean.

Some email clients will automatically move to a new message when the one you're reading is moved or deleted. Make sure yours doesn't.

File & Printer Sharing

This is easy: Just turn it off. You'll find the settings in Control Panel's Network applet. If you still want to close port 139, check the GRC site.

Spyware Threats

Spyware is software which sneaks onto your system without your knowing it and then monitors your web activity. As such spyware programs are very much like trojans.

You should always check with Spychecker before downloading anything. Spychecker is an immense database of programs known for sneaking tracker software onto your system during an install. And while you're there, get the free Spychecker desktop utility which will make it even easier access this database.

If you do get infected by spyware, don't give up hope - again the Spychecker site has a great number of resources to help you. Perhaps best of the spyware detection programs is AdAware. If you are in the habit of downloading a lot of software off the web, make a point of always checking first with Spychecker, and then running AdAware regularly just to be sure. And if you do get infected, play your part by filing the culprit application with the Spychecker database.

Trojan Threats

Trojans are stealth programs installed without your knowledge on your machine. But the only way they can be effective is to always activate when you reboot. To do this they must place information for your operating system in one of a number of places. Fortunately the list of these places is finite (but perhaps growing), and if you check these locations regularly you can learn if your system is harbouring a trojan.

  • AUTOEXEC.BAT. NT+ will only parse the path here, but 9x systems will use the entire file. It's only text, so open it in a text editor and take a look.
  • WIN.INI. Again a 9x weakness. Check the [windows] section for unknown values after the entries 'load' and 'run'.
  • The Registry. There are a number of keys that can be used to automatically start programs on boot. Search for 'Run' under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and see what you find. Also check the AeDebug and Winlogon keys on NT+.
  • Your Start menu. Anything you have here should be something you are familiar with.

A good policy is to take everything off your Start menu and out of your Registry, AUTOEXEC.BAT and WIN.INI. Use desktop shortcuts you have to manually click instead. A quick inspection will make trojans stick out like a sore thumb.

When running NT+ you have to make sure that all your drivers and services are genuine.

Virus Threats

Get a good anti-virus suite such as Norton or NAI/Mcafee and keep it up to date. Anti-virus software can significantly slow down your computer, but you don't need to have it running all the time - just when you are actually downloading something from the net (just make sure you do turn it on for this). You might want to run a complete check now and then when you're offline just to be sure.

The best complement for this is of course: Be careful. It's your machine, no one else's, so trust no one. Always inspect a program thoroughly before running it.

Web Bugs

Web bugs are insidious little images embedded in web pages which refer back to a remote site and thereby cull tracking information about your web surfing. They're often only 1 pixel square and transparent, so for all practical purposes they're invisible.

To nullify web bugs you need to stop communications to the ad companies running them. A good way to do this is by using Silencer from the Bloatbusters™.

You can download Silencer here (43.4KB).

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