Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is Your Computer a Zombie?

This somewhat sensationalist article from CBS News is a decent quickie primer on botnets and zombie computers. A zombie computer is simply an internet connected computer that has been infected with a virus or hidden program that allows some malicious 3rd party to utilize your computer for nefarious purposes such as spamming. It is believed that millions of personal computers worldwide are “botted.” The simple way to avoid these problems is to not get infected in the first place.

1. Install and use a virus scanning product that auto updates every day. There are several that you can spend $50 on, but it is really not necessary. AVG Anti-Virus is a commercial product that allows home users to use it for free. I have it on every Windows computer in my house, and we have never had a virus infection.

2. Firewall your home computer or network. If you are on dial up Windows XP has a free firewall that should be turned on by default. Poke around your system and make sure it is. A firewall is simply a device or software program that controls what computers can connect to yours. If you have a high speed connection you may have a router that functions as your firewall. Note, your cable modem or DSL modem is probably not also a router. If you have a router log into the admin function and look for something called firewall and make sure it is turned on. If your computer connects directly to the DSL or cable modem make sure that your Windows firewall is on.

3. Use Firefox as your web browser. It is more secure than Internet Explorer. It is also free.

4. Don’t open suspicious looking email attachments. Your anti-virus software should protect you, but why take the risk? If you system is properly firewalled the only way a bad guy can get a virus or zombie bot to your system is for you to invite it in via an email attachment or malicious web site. Firefox is far less vulnerable to the malicious web sites than Internet Explorer, which is why I recommend that everybody use it.

5. You can also check your system for spyware with a program like Windows Defender. If you have steps 1-4 covered you probably won’t have any spyware issues, however it’s never a bad idea to make sure.

That’s it. If you follow those 5 steps religiously it is highly unlikely that you will have any virus or spy wire problems. If you were paying attention you may have noticed that keeping your computer clean will cost you exactly zero dollars. So you have no excuse.These steps apply specifically to Windows users. Macintosh and Linux uses don’t have as many of these issues. But they already knew that.