Internet Security

 by Allan J. Greenberg

Recent events have demonstrated that the Internet is vulnerable to attacks from computer hackers. Large on-line companies have had their systems breached and information taken. We too, albeit on a smaller scale, are subject to hacker attacks and to loss of sensitive information. While it is true that our computers are only vulnerable while connected to the Internet, we are increasing our time connected to the Internet. And with the increasing use of DSL and cable connections the opportunity for attacks increases.

This article addresses the means one can take at home today to insure the security of your computer and computer data. But first we need to take a look at our current computer security.

To test your computer system security, just connect to the Internet and go to the Shields UP web site. Shields UP provides a free check of the security of your computer's connection to the Internet. Scroll down the web page until you see the section that contains two buttons: Test My Shields! and Probe My Ports! Click on the Test My Shields! first and wait for the results to appear on your monitor. Shields UP will show you how secure (or not secure) your computer's connection is to the Internet. You may want to print out this information. Next, click on the Test My Ports! button and wait for the results. Shields UP will show you what ports are open to the Internet which will allow outside access to your computer. You may want to print out the results. If Shields UP shows that your computer's connection to the Internet is not secure, you may want to take some action to secure it.

Now that you know how secure your system is (or its lack of security), you are probably ready to invest in some security means to reduce and even eliminate the security holes. To add Internet security to your system, you need to install security software. Internet connection security software is usually called a "firewall". There are many firewalls available to install on your system from several popular software manufacturers, plus some shareware and even some freeware.

Norton® Personal Firewall 2005 is just one example of firewall software that can be purchased and installed on your computer. It lists for about $50. Another example is McAfee® Personal Firewall Plus which sells for about $40. You may want to check the Tucows web site for shareware software.

One free firewall that has received very favorable reviews is Zone Labs ZoneAlarm®. You can read about Zone Labs' free firewall at their web site. Downloading and installing ZoneAlarm is easy. After installation just start your Internet service and whatever program you use for Web access and e-mail. ZoneAlarm will ask you if you want to allow xxx program to access the Internet. When you respond "yes" to this question, ZoneAlarm enters this information into its database that records what program is allowed to access to the Internet. Programs not allowed are blocked by the firewall. Also, ports are either blocked or rendered "stealth" to the Internet.

To test the security of your system after ZoneAlarm (or any other firewall) is installed, just return to the Shields UP web site and retest your computer's connection to the Internet. I think that you will be favorably impressed with the results.

Another free firewall that has received very favorable reviews is Sygate Personal Firewal 5.6. I have used it for quite a while and like it. You can begin the download by clicking here.