Security & Privacy


Viruses & Anti-Virus software

Yes. If you own a pc you need anti-virus software. If your anti-virus software came with your computer, remember that you must maintain a subscription to get anti-virus updates. If you can't remember if you still have the subscription - it has probably expired. Not to worry! There are great free anti-virus solutions available to home users only (that's why we can't save a ton of $ using them in schools!).

Two recommended free anti-virus software solutions:
AVG by Grisoft
Avast by Alwit

Installing anti-virus software:

If you already have anti-virus software on your computer you should remove it before installing the new one. Here are the recommended steps to replace your A/V software:

  1. Download the software you are switching to, like AVG listed above. Save it somewhere you'll remember. It's fine to save it to your desktop because you can delete the installer later.
  2. Remove the old software. Check to see if it has its own uninstaller by clicking the Start button and check in its folder. If it doesn't, open Control Panel, open Add/Remove Programs, find the program you want to uninstall and choose Remove.
  3. Restart your computer.
  4. Double-click the software you downloaded and follow the on-screen directions.

note: some free programs require you to register through email. AVG does, but don't worry, THEY DON'T SPAM.

Online Anti-Virus Scanner

PandaSecurity
Click 'Free Online Scan' in the lower right corner...as off September 2007.

Firewalls

A firewall is either a piece of hardware or software that eliminates unwanted network traffic. In other words its job is to keep the bad people off your computer. Spyware, adware and malware are common attempts to hijack your pc for nefarious purposes. If you have an always on internet connection like cable or DSL you should run at least one firewall. Many people today run both a hardware and software firewall.

A good, free software firewall
ZoneAlarm

If/when you purchase a router, wireless or otherwise for home, make sure it is one with a hardware firewall feature. It's become a pretty standard feature. It's probably harder to find one without it!

*Comcast customers please read concerning anti-virus & firewalls*

The free software listed here are recommendations that are proven winners. Feel free to look for others. Here are a few nice places to browse around:

100-Downloads
BootDisk
Download.com

Adware, Spyware and other forms of Malware

Malware refers to all forms of malicious software that targets your machine without your consent. Beyond viruses other forms of malware are adware, spyware, trojans, & worms. The end function of these programs can be fairly benign to downright evil. On the benign side they may target pop-up adds bound to your browsing history. Much worse are key loggers that track every key you strike on the keyboard. This can lead to identity theft or hacking into secure work and shopping accounts.

There are five free, recommended tools to combat these in conjunction with up to date anti-virus and firewall solutions:

Adaware
Spybot
A-Squared
Blacklight
Microsoft Windows Defender

On the pay for service side, Webroot Spy Sweeper always seems to be the highest rated in the leading PC magazines. These tools can and should be used in concert with each other. You can run all of them together, or pick and choose the ones that work best for you.

For those really troublesome worms and trojans there is another tool that should be used as a last resort. When you have tried everything to get rid of the pesky browser hijacker, head over to Merijin.org and grab hijackthis. IF you follow the directions on the site and follow the advice in the forum you should be successful. WARNING! This is not for the faint of heart or beginning computer user! Make sure you follow their directions and recommendations, especially when deleting items from the registry. Neither merijin.org nor this site take responsibility for damage to your pc...

Pop-Ups and limiting them on your machine

Pop-ups are those windows that open unlooked for on top of or underneath the web page you are actually viewing. Most pop-ups are annoying and by following the steps above you can get rid of many of them. There are a number of other choices you can make to get rid of many of the others. Some will be near impossible to get rid of. Some sites have paid sponsorships by a company and allow that company to place a pop-up on their site. Those are usually less intrusive and don't show up after you close it for the first time. For instance, it's common for a movie review site or blog to have a sponsored pop-up from the DVD rental company Netflix.

Keeping your Microsoft Windows software up to date is the first step. In Internet Explorer click on Tools then Windows Update. Follow the on-screen instructions. There are options to allow Windows to actively search for updates and to download them. You should make these choices based on your personal usage patterns.

Switching browsers to something like Firefox is another startegy. Firefox doesn't support some Microsoft technologies like VBScript or ActiveX that can be exploited by hackers to create malware and pop-ups. cnet It takes longtime users of Internet Explorer awhile to get used to the new feel of an alternative browser, but you will most likely have fewer security problems,as well as enjoy some new functions.

Notes on using multiple browsers: The internet and software that works with it are organic - they are always evolving. If you switch to Firefox you will also have updates to install. Firefox users sometimes need to use Internet Explorer to accomplish certain things. For instance, our district webpage works better through Internet Explorer when teachers sign in to update their web pages or report personal absences. Our blog site seems to function better in Firefox. Firefox also allows for user created functionality. There are many user friendly add-ins for Firefox that some people cannot live without after getting used to them.

Do NOT try to uninstall Internet Explorer! It is an integral part of Microsoft Windows. If you try to uninstall it your machine will crash.

Secure Shopping

If you are comfortable with everything on this page so far, you should feel comfortable shopping on the web. There are some tips that you should keep in mind.

When shopping make sure that the site you are using is secure. When giving your credit card the beginning of the URL in the address bar should be https: instead of the usual http:. The 'S' stands for secure. Also secure sites should show a little lock in the lower right hand corner of your browser.

Signing in. You have to create an account and sign in to sites like amazon.com or your bank's website to make purchases or to view account information. These sites should never send you email asking for your login information or tell you follow a link to update your account information. This is a scam. It is known as// Phishing.

In general it is not a good idea to follow links in email that bring you to sites like your bank. Instead browse to your bank normally and conduct your business. Phishers have gotten too good at recreating the look and feel of websites for banks and other institutions at which you can manipulate your finances. A link in an email might seem to bring you to chase.com or Paypal, but they are common phishing scams.

Usernames & Passwords

Passwords should not be easy to guess for many of the reasons listed above. Strong passwords are long, do not contain any personal or identifying information about the user, and make use of a number of different symbols.

General password tips:
  1. Passwords should be at least 7 characters long
  2. Use a combination of upper & lowercase letters, numbers, and non-alphanumeric characters like @# & !. (tee-hee-hee)
  3. Do not use personal information like birthdays or names of pets
  4. Be random

Wireless home networks

Use wireless routers that employ encryption...and use it!

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