Software Report [10-Step Security - 10/19/2005]

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October 19th, 2005

10-Step Security

by Senior Associate Editor Dennis O'Reilly

Each new wave of computer viruses, spies, and spam may have you ready
to dust off your typewriter, but PC security can be effective without
being a chore. To keep your computing safe from current and future
threats, we've distilled our security advice down to the basics. These
ten quick and easy tips will help protect your hardware, software, and

1. Patch automatically: Ensure Windows is set to update itself. In XP,
click Start, Control Panel, Security Settings (if you're in Category
view), Automatic Updates. In 2000, choose Start, Settings, Control
Panel, Automatic Updates. In both versions, verify that 'Automatic
(recommended)' is selected. You can also have Windows notify you
before it downloads an update, or you can install the update manually.
(The steps and options are only slightly different in Windows 98 and

2. Don't wait for Windows: If your PC has been off for more than a few
days, don't wait for Windows' automatic update to kick in. Make the
Windows Update site your first Internet stop: /

Also, there may be a lag between when a patch is available and when
Windows Update pushes it to you. Microsoft releases Windows patches on
the second Tuesday of each month, so to be safe check for updates
manually every couple of weeks. And don't forget to set your antivirus
and anti-spyware tools to update automatically (or check weekly for
updates yourself).

3. Use XP's security monitor: Windows XP Service Pack 2's most welcome
addition is the Windows Security Center, which alerts you when your
PC's firewall and antivirus protection are disabled or out of date.
Still, XP's own firewall protects you only from inbound pests; it
doesn't alert you to suspicious outbound traffic; see "Tweak Windows
XP SP2 Security to Your Advantage" for more:,aid,117422,tk,srx,00.asp

We recommend that you disable the XP firewall and instead use Zone
Labs' ZoneAlarm (see "Security Tool Kit," below, for URL) or another
third-party firewall program that protects both ways.

4. Make your file extensions visible: Some viruses masquerade as
harmless file types by adding a bogus extension near the end of their
name, as in "funnycartoon.jpg.exe," in hopes your system is set to
hide such extensions (the default in Windows XP and 2000)--you see
'.jpg' but not '.exe'. To make these troublemakers easier to spot,
open Windows Explorer or any folder window and click Tools, Folder
Options, View. Ensure that the option "Hide file extensions for known
file types" is unchecked.

Bonus Tip 1: To get the most complete picture of your Windows setup,
check "Show hidden files and folders" and uncheck "Hide protected
operating system files (Recommended)."

Bonus Tip 2: View Microsoft's video guide to Windows XP security
settings at the company's site. Here's the link:

5. Keep Internet Explorer safe: Many people find IE 6's Medium
security level too obliging to ActiveX controls and other small
programs, or scripts, that the browser runs on your PC. ActiveX and
JavaScript enable such useful Web features as order forms and security
scans, but they also may run malicious code and give attackers access
to your system. To make IE safer, click Tools, Internet Options,
Security, Custom Level, select High from the drop-down menu at the
bottom of the Security Settings dialog box, and click Reset, Yes, OK.

Unfortunately, setting IE to the High security setting can lead to the
browser's unleashing a fusillade of warnings and permission pop-ups
every time you visit a site. The solution is to add the sites that you
access often to IE's Trusted Sites list: Choose Tools, Internet
Options, Security, click the Trusted Sites icon, and then click the
Sites button. Enter the Web address, click Add, and repeat as
necessary (see the Trusted Sites screen below). Be sure to uncheck
"Require server verification (https:) for all sites in this zone."
When you're finished, click OK twice.

6. Make Firefox more secure: The only way to block JavaScripts on a
site-by-site basis in the Mozilla Foundation's free Firefox browser is
to download and install the NoScript add-in that was created by
Giorgio Maone:

NoScript places a warning bar at the bottom of all the Web pages you
visit that use JavaScript. Click the bar to see options for allowing
scripts on the site (permanently or temporarily), blocking scripts,
and other operations (see the NoScript screen below). The program can
also stifle Flash animations and other Firefox plug-ins, but keep in
mind that going Flash-less means you'll be missing out on some of the
Web's richest content (along with all of those great dancing ads).
Although NoScript is freeware, the author does accept donations at his
Web site: /

7. Handle e-mail links with care: If a virus infects your PC, chances
are good it arrived piggybacked on e-mail. To reduce your risk of an
e-mail-borne infection, don't click links in suspicious messages (the
text in the message may mask the actual Web address). Instead, enter
the URL in your browser's address bar manually, or go to the site's
home page and then navigate to the page in question.

8. Scan attachments for viruses: Run each of the e-mail attachments
you receive through your antivirus software before you open them.
Rather than double-clicking the attachment to open it instantly, save
the file to a drive on your PC, open Windows Explorer, right-click the
file, and choose the option to scan it for viruses. (Better yet, set
your antivirus software to scan incoming and outgoing e-mail

9. Close the preview pane: Some maleficent messages need only be
opened in your e-mail program's preview window to do their dirty work.
That's why we recommend that you close the preview pane in all of your
inboxes. In Microsoft Outlook 2003, click View, Reading pane, Off. In
Outlook Express 6, click View, Layout and verify that "Show Preview
Pane" is unchecked. In Mozilla Thunderbird, click View, Layout and
confirm that "Message pane" is unchecked (or press F8 to toggle the
preview pane on and off).

10. Read your mail in plain text: Since many e-mail pests rely on HTML
code to achieve their nefarious goals, you can stop them in their
tracks by viewing your messages as plain text. In Outlook 2003, click
Tools, Options, Preferences, E-mail Options and check "Read all
standard mail in plain text." In Outlook Express 6, choose Tools,
Options, Read and click "Read all messages in plain text." In Mozilla
Thunderbird, select View, Message Body As, Plain Text.

Security Tool Kit

A well-stocked PC security toolbox goes beyond the basics of firewall
and antivirus software to include protection from phishers and snoops
as well. Bolster your system's defenses with these security utilities.

Firewall: ZoneAlarm, free (for individuals and not-for-profit
charities), Zone Labs,fid,7228,tk,srx,00.asp

Antivirus: AVG Anti-Virus System, free (for noncommercial use),

Anti-spyware: Spy Sweeper 4, $30, Webroot Software; see review in
"Best Defenders.",aid,122496,pg,2,tk,srx,00.asp

Antiphishing: Anti-Fraud Toolbar, free (currently in beta), Cloudmark;
see review in "Fight Fraud and Phishing With New Tools.",aid,120501,tk,srx,00.asp

Encryption: PGP Desktop 9, $199 or $70 annual subscription, PGP

Wireless Safety

Encrypt your Wi-Fi network: When you install a wireless network, it's
tempting to keep the vendor's default network name and leave the
network unencrypted. But doing so is an open invitation to your
neighbors and anyone else within range to help themselves to your
Internet connection. Open your network's configuration program to
rename your network and apply Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption.
And check the maker's Web site regularly for driver and security

Visit PC World's Security & Spyware Info Center for more tips on
keeping your system secure:,ctrid,7,ic,SpywareandSecurity,tk,srx,00.asp

         "Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things
they make it easier to do don't need to be done."
               -- Andy Rooney
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Re: Software Report [10-Step Security - 10/19/2005]

On Mon, 16 Jan 2006, Ablang wrote:

Quoted text here. Click to load it
Quoted text here. Click to load it

Bonus Tip 3: Using Regedit, search for every instance of "NeverShowExt"
in the Windows registry and change it to "AlwaysShowExt".  (That way you
can change it back if needed for service.)  That will unhide the special
extensions that are still hidden even after "Hide file extensions for
known file types" is unchecked (.pif, .lnk, .shs, etc.).

Norman De Forest   [=||=]  (At the Sign of the Flashing Cursor)
"Oh how I miss the days when it was easier to catch gonorhea than a
computer virus."       -- Big Will in alt.comp.virus, March 9, 2005

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