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What’s the problem?


March 1, 2005
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Most of us need to use computers in our day-to-day work, but we are being inundated by spam, trojans, viruses, worms and various scams. So what are these things? And what can we do about them? First,…

Most of us need to use computers in our day-to-day work, but we are being inundated by spam, trojans, viruses, worms and various scams. So what are these things? And what can we do about them? First, some definitions:

* Spam: Named for the (in)famous canned meat, it refers to ‘unsolicited, commercial email’. That is the official definition. What it means to us is email that shows up offering everything from free money to porn to enlarging various body parts. It is not usually harmful, but it is always best to delete it unopened as some of them can harbour harmful programs known as Trojans, worms or viruses.

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* Trojan: A program purporting to do one thing, but actually doing something else. For example, it might offer a free screensaver, but actually puts a program onto your computer that looks for financial information kept on your computer. It may also refer to a worm/virus that gives someone else remote access to your computer without your knowledge.

* Worms: Programs that load onto your computer without your knowledge. Usually designed to do nothing more than spread and clog up the Internet, they could also perform actions similar to a Trojan.

* Virus: A malicious program that spreads on the back of other programs. They write themselves into another program to perform actions ranging from writing a silly message on your computer screen to trashing all the information on your computer.

* Spyware: Programs that are loaded onto your computer without your knowledge as you surf the Internet. Usually their purpose is to monitor where you go on the Web and to pop up annoying ads. However, they can also monitor your activities, such as on-line banking, and send information to a third party.

* Pop-ups: Those horribly annoying little windows that pop up (thus the name) on your screen as you surf the Web.

* Scams: Emails offering to give you millions of dollars for some trifling favour, but usually giving a crook free access to your bank account. One of the most famous is the ‘Nigerian letter’, asking you to provide front money so a ‘poor, but honest’ politician can save his country’s money, offering a few million dollars to you in payment for your kindness.

What can you do?

1. Never open an email from someone you do not know , unless, it is from a recognizable source (i.e. a different person from a known organization). Your best response is to delete unknown email. This will protect you from 90% of the above problems. Never, ever, ever, Ever, EVER run a program from an unknown source. Even if you receive it from someone you know, it is worthwhile to call and check that he actually sent it. It is what I do — it protects you from getting a virus or worm from a friend’s infected computer, as these programs can transmit themselves without human intervention.

2. Ensure that Windows is properly updated. Go to the Windows Update website and follow the instructions. It will update your version of Windows to the latest, safest version. I usually only apply the “Critical Updates”. All updates are free.

3. Install an antivirus program. Most businesses require one on every company computer. It should be set up to automatically update itself every few days, as viruses change by the day.

4. Install a firewall. There is a good, free one available from ZoneAlarm for personal use. You must buy their commercial version for business use, but it or a similar product is a must-have. Otherwise your computer is completely open whenever you are on the web to anyone with the know-how.

5. Install AdAware, Spybot or a similar anti-spyware program, and run it every few weeks. This will scan your computer for Spyware and offer to eliminate it for you. With all my precautions (just call me Mr. Safety) I still have some Spyware on my computer when I scan every month! The two mentioned are free for personal use, but you must buy a commercial version for business use.

6. Tired of those awful pop-ups? Install the Google Toolbar. It is free and besides offering lots of extra functions, will stop those annoying pop-ups!

7. And if it seems too good to be true, it likely is. No one is giving away free money — your best defense is to delete those emails offering the ‘deal of a lifetime’.

So these are some potential problems, which might come through your email or from surfing the Web. However, think of it as similar to using your car in a big city — lock your doors, don’t leave your keys in the ignition, use a steering wheel lock and don’t let strangers into your car. The same is true of your computer. As it becomes more sophisticated and you use it for more tasks, more unscrupulous people will attempt to take advantage of its vulnerabilities, and of yours. A little precaution and foreknowledge is all it takes to keep you and your computer safe.

If you have anything to add or would like to suggest another topic, please contact the author. Dan Davies is the application manager at Degussa Canada in bleaching and water chemicals. He can be reached at dan.davies@degussa.com


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