Security Basics

Vulnerabilities of various Computer systems.

People who fall in love with the Net do so for different reasons. Many love the ability to quickly and cheaply keep up with friends and loved ones via e-mail, while others love the vast oceans of information or the rush of playing Internet games.

However, it's likely that most Internet users share one thing in common as they surf: the last thing on their minds is computer security.

While that's understandable, it's also a big mistake. It is important to remember that surfing the Net comes with certain inherent risks. When you log onto the Net, you step into the public arena, even if you're surfing from a bedroom computer while lounging around in your skivvies!

There are as many bad guys in cyberspace as there are in everyday life, and those shady characters are constantly prowling the Internet in search of new victims to scam.

However, the media often exaggerate these dangers. It is extremely unlikely (though not impossible) that anyone reading this article will fall prey to an Internet crime, and in truth the risks are not much greater than those associated with many fun activities.

Does the potential of breaking a bone keep you from enjoying your favorite ski slope or bike trail? Of course not. Instead, the smart person uses the necessary caution that will allow for a safe and enjoyable experience.

That ethos also applies to those who want to surf the Web safely. There are countless ways that thieves and mischief makers can wreak havoc with your sense of security, but there are just as many ways to keep intruders at bay via safe-surfing techniques or security software.

Latest Security

For a basic overview of Internet and computer security issues, stop by SecurityFocus.  This site bills itself as the "largest and most comprehensive database of security knowledge and resources freely available to the public."

Here, you'll find pages devoted to the latest security news, information about the vulnerabilities of various systems, reviews of security tools and software, a library of online security information and more. You can also sign up for the BugTraq e-mail updates that keep you abreast of the latest vulnerabilities.

Admittedly, this site is not exactly light reading. But it offers comprehensive coverage of security issues.

Online security risks exist only when a computer is actually connected to the Internet. Anyone who connects to the Net via a phone modem is potentially at risk when they are logged on, but the danger of a new attack upon security disappears as soon as they log off.

It's a different story for those with broadband connections. In essence, a broadband link gives you continuous access to the Net 24 hours a day. Those considering the speed and quality advantages of broadband and mobile broadband should also weigh this additional, very small risk in their decision process.

Building Firewalls

Unleashing viruses and stealing e-mail content are two major threats to your computer's security. But they are hardly the only threats. Information that is stored on your computer is potentially vulnerable to attack. That's why users might consider building their own firewall to keep intruders out.

Think of a firewall as a heavy steel, dead-bolted front door that protects all the valuables behind it.

Whenever you log onto the Net, and type in a Web address, you are requesting a page that comes to you via an IP address. Basically, the IP address is a numerical translation of the address that you've just typed in - for example is translated into a series of numbers that allows a computer to search for the information you've requested and to send it back to you.

Pretty neat, but there's also a potential downside. In order to receive the information, you too must have an IP address, and it is this address that makes you vulnerable to hackers looking to do naughty things to your computer.

Those with dial-up connections receive a new IP address each time they log on, making them less vulnerable to attack than broadband users, who have a constant, static address. But the risks are real for both groups.

Once hackers get into your IP address, they do their damage by accessing applications through a virtual channel called a port number. Firewall software prevents incoming requests from accessing these ports.

Those looking for more sophisticated protection can purchase software from companies such as Symantec  or McAfee . Less comprehensive protection can be obtained via a free download at Zone Labs' Zone Alarm.

The Internet is a new world of limitless fun, but dangers also lurk in the shadows. A solid understanding of Internet security issues can help keep your private information protected as you cruise the information superhighway.