Online Security

The recent data leak by HMRC, the British Revenue and Customs Service, in the form of mislaying in the post two CDs, has basically led to 25 million people potentially loosing their identity.

Social networking on Facebook (and other such sites) is leading to people's identities being compromised online – though in this case this is due to what often could only be described as “stupidity”.

The question is “how safe are you online?

If you are using the Internet with a Windows based PC you must have anti-virus software, as well as anti-malware software, and you must have this updated regularly. Daily, at least once a day, as far as anti-virus program is concerned.

A note of caution here: there are some people who think that running more than one anti-virus program will make for better protection. The truth is that is won't and the two or more anti-virus programs may just about clash and fight each other.

This does not hold true, in general, as to anti-malware software. A number of programs, some often doing slightly different tasks than the other, live quite happily together on the same PC. As said, for anti-virus software this is not the case.

You also must have a firewall, at least a software one, better still software and hardware firewall.

Let us start with the Anti-Virus software.

Obviously there is a lot of software out there on the market, many of them making lots of claims as to being better than the competition. They all would, wouldn't they? And many people think that they must have the big brand name software, like Norton Anti-Virus, or Norton Security Suite, from Symantec, or McAfee, or others which all cost lots of money and many folks think that the more they cost the better the product must be.

This is, however, not (always) the case. Yes, it is true that often you get what you pay for and if it is cheap or even free then it may not be as good as the paid for stuff. While this may be the case with most things to some degree with software, however, it is very rarely the case.

For quite a number of years by now I have used, and still use, a free Anti-Virus program called AVG from a company called Grisoft, based in the Czech Republic, and the AVG Free Anti-Virus software of mine has caught and isolated the viruses that colleagues and friends of mine were also sent and whose programs, Norton and McAfee, respectively, which, like my AVG were updated religiously, failed to capture and could also not isolate.

All I can say that AVG Free, now version AVG 7.5, has been performing well for me, with one exception and that was when a Trojan Horse virus was sent to me but not via an email bu via an open port in a chat room. This is where often any such protection software fails and you have to ask yourself as to whether using such places is safe for you or not.

In all other instances AVG Free has done its job, and, if would appear, far better than the paid for programs. No, before you ask, I do not work for AVG nor do I get paid by them. Chance would be a fine things but...

As I have said already, daily update for anti-virus program is a must and every time that I go live on the Net I let the AVG program check for new updates. In fact does make updates available sometimes several times a day. So, as a rule: when online check for anti-virus updates.

There is no need to pay for protection software, none whatsoever.

The same also holds true for Anti-Malware software, as well as Firewall, and others.


Under malware we understand all those little programs that are called cookies, and there are good cookies and bad cookies, and other tracking files, as well as a variety of others, such as so-called spyware, including keyloggers.

Again, having good programs, and here you can indeed run more than one, again is a must but, once again, there is no need to pay good money out for any of them.

My recommendation for anti-malware software are Spybot Search and Destroy, Spyware Blaster and Ad-Aware.

There is no problem running those three together on the same machine; I have been doing so for ages on a variety of Windows operating systems.

Each of those works a little different and together they make a good package as there are chances that one program will not attack something that another will.

Spybot Search and Destroy has a resident shield that basically immunizes the PC against blacklisted programs as well as blacklisted sites. In addition to that Spybot S&D has a scanning feature for malware and can remove those that it finds.

Spybot S&D also has a nigh military grade fire shredder that is found under advanced tool with which you can erase, to have virtually to no trace left of the files, material from your PC that might be able to incriminate you should it fall into the wrong hands.

In addition to those items discussed above you do need, no two ways about it, at least a software Firewall and I can highly recommend another free program here (oh, yes, they also have a version you can pay for but no need to get that one) and that is ZoneAlarm.

A firewall is intended to protect you and your PC from hacking attempts and in proper stealth mode your PC is nigh on invisible bar to the websites.

A hardware firewall in addition to a software one is still better than just the software one but hardware firewalls, good ones, are not cheap and for general use it may not be necessary though I'd love to test drive one some day.

In order to be even safer than with the above mentioned, and you also have to use your own head to make sure that your information stays with you and you alone, you may want to consider a different browser for surfing the Internet.

The Internet Explorer from Microsoft is very vulnerable to attacks and the way it works also leaves you, the user, and your PC, open to attacks via various means. One of the favorite of malware writers is using Active X as a medium on a website and with Internet Explorer every items of malware and hijackers, etc. immediately install without you, as user, knowing it. Been there and done it, so to speak, in the very beginning when I was rather naïve as well.

My recommendation is that if you want to be safe on the Net and protect yourself then download Firefox Browser from Here you get prompted if a website wants to install an .exe fire, for instance, by means of a pop-up box that states “you have chosen to download... what do you want Firefox to do with this file” and you have the option to “open”, “save to disc” or “cancel”. If you have not actually clicked to download a program, and any .exe file basically is that, then the action to take in that case is “cancel” and immediately leave the site you are on.

Once again to recap. For personal use you do not have to go and purchase Norton, McAffee or any other such software packages. There are enough free programs out there that perform equally well if not, as I explained, better even than the paid for competition.

In addition to all those programs your own vigilance is also called for. Do not fall for the scams of “you have won the lottery”. They do not notify over the Internet. Not fall into the banking scam trap or any of the others. Any offer that sounds too good to be true more than likely is and your bank will not send you an email to give you password and PIN or what-have-you over the Internet. If you think it is from your bank, phone them and check. More than likely it is not.

On social networking sites do not give name, address, telephone number and such details, especially not in a public profile. Any such information is on a “need to know” basis and the general public does not need to know. Your handle, as they used to call that in CB Radio jargon, and your interest are enough. I also would suggest do use an avatar and not a real picture.

Remember: Your Internet safety and security is only as good as you. You can have all the software and even hardware firewall But if you slip up then nothing will help. If you are gullible and naïve and fall for scams or open emails with attachments without checking and double checking then then there is little that will protect you. A virus can even come from a friend without the friend knowing it or with his or her name having been cloned by the virus senders. Never open attachments unless you are really, really sure about that your friend or family member has sent you a document, photograph or whatever via email.

It a jungle out there. So let's be careful.

One little final note before I go: If you really want to be sure that you are safe then the only recommendation one could make is to use Linux operating system instead of Windows but, alas, not all websites work with Linux and Firefox 100%.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), December 2007