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Topic Subject: Beyond the owner's manual - Zen's guide to safe computing
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posted 03-29-02 08:52 ET (US)   
We've all had gone through them - or at least heard of someone that did. These things can do anything from causing minor headaches to total destruction of your computer (requiring hardware replacements). It's the bane of tech support help desks everywhere.

What is it?

I'm talking about unsafe computing - which, just like unsafe-sex, can lead to a whole can of worms, such as unauthorized access into your computer, pop-up ads popping out of nowhere, companies that spy on your surfing habits, software that capture every email you've ever sent and received, etc., etc., etc., etc.

Practice Safe Computing
How? Here are some of my suggestions:

1. Keep your computer updated
This may seem to be a bit of a pain, but the fact is, software companies find bugs (or have bugs reported to them) in their software all the time. Some times these bugs are minor bugs that you can safely ignore, but some times these bugs open your computer to possibilites of harm. These bugs are called "vulnerabilities", or "exploits". They can cause your computer to lock up, give other people access to your files, infect your computer, etc.

Just about every computer user out there have used a MS Windows system, and has it running at home. Bad thing is that Microsoft included a Lot Of Extra Stuff on your computer that you may not need, or was "forced onto you" by Microsoft by way of convenience. But the good thing is that updating all these things normally is just a click away. Go to Microsoft's Windows Update website and let it figure out what needs to be upgraded. Most of the time you'll only need to concern yourself with the updates listed in the "Critical Updates" section. Feel free to do other upgrades to your system as well, but remember the mantra - "If it works, don't fix it."

If you use Microsoft Office, you may want to check out Office Update as well, since Office includes a feature called "Macros" - basically mini programs that run within a file. There are a lot of viruses that are ran with this feature.

Instant Messaging
The next important update check is for the many instant messaging software out there. The popular ones include Trillian, AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. Since these are the programs that always "listen" for incoming messages, it is easy for someone to try and break down the door (and - most of the time - either crash the program, or take down your whole computer.) Check up on those sites for any updates that may be available.

Email Software
If you have followed some of the links in the introductory paragraph of this article, you will notice that some of the viruses are spread through email. Take precautions - install a virus scanner that scans your email (Norton AntiVirus), and disable JavaScript or any scripting for your email program:

Go to Tools->Options->Viewing Mail, and make sure "Use Microsoft's Viewer" is unchecked.

Caveat: the free version of Eudora is ad supported; you may be better off either paying for it (especially if you're a heavy email user), or use Mozilla's built-in mail software (which is similar to Outlook Express)

Outlook Express/Outlook
Don't use Outlook Express or Outlook. It's outright dangerous. Plus, many file-system based virus scanners can not scan OE/Outlook messages, since they're all stored in one giant file. To my knowledge, only Norton AntiVirus allows for "Email Protection" by scanning the mail before Outlook ever gets its hands on it.

In case you're wondering, Mozilla is Netscape's next generation browser. You can read more about it at . If you can't afford Eudora, this may be the way to go.

Go to Edit->Preferences->Advanced->Scripts & Windows. Under "Enable JavaScript for:", uncheck Mail & Newsgroups.

AntiVirus Software
Having an Anti-Virus scanner installed is only half the fix. You have to constantly update your virus definitions to keep it fresh - so that it can be prepared for new viruses. Also, if you hear news of a "new virus", it's generally a good idea to update your virus definitions for the next day or two (in case your vendor was slow in coming for updating their definitions) Some popular virus scanners include Norton Antivirus, McAfee AntiVirus, F-Secure and Sophos AntiVirus. If you were wondering why Dr. Soloman's was left off the list, that's because McAfee bought them.


Information overload
Yeah, it's tough work, but here are a few websites that you can visit to keep you up-to-date: Posts updates to programs within a day of their announcement. You can download files & view changes made to the program. A great "Geek News" site that reports news-worthy vulnerabilities. Another "Geek news" site Security Focus's online vulnerabilities database Gibson Research Corporation - a great site for in-depth articles on various things computer-related.

2. Unnecessary Utilities
Don't install things that you don't need. Ask yourself this question: Is this program worth 2 days of down time? If your answer is no, don't install it. But if you have a pressing need for it, take a few moments of your time to do a search for the program on What you are looking for is user-feedback, as well as any news items that might be of interest. Check on it, and see if the feedback is good, and read the news item to see what it says. If everything checks out good, then - in most cases - it's good to install.

Internet Installs
Occasionally you will see something like this pop up:

That is Internet Explorer's way of telling you:
"Can I install this program on your computer?"

Now, here is my rule of thumb.
If the program is distributed by Microsoft (various apps), Apple (Quicktime), Macromedia (Shockwave Director & Flash), Real (Real Audio/Real Video), and Google (Google Toolbar) then you normally would click ok. Otherwise ALWAYS SAY NO. The exception to this case is if you were at work and was told to click on the "YES" button by a qualified member of their helpdesk team.

Why always say no?

Take Gator Setup, for example. When used properly, Gator Setup will install "Gator", a program that remembers your passwords & forms, while installing additional advertising software on your computer. (Note: Internet Explorer 5+ and Mozilla both can remember your password & form values). It's a bad thing.

But when used improperly, Gator Setup will install ANY PROGRAM it's told to setup by the website that sent you the program. So if you say "YES", you could be installing a program that you don't want on your computer (trojan horse, virus, spyware, adware, etc.)

Less is better
The less programs you have installed, the better. Less Programs = less memory and system resources used, thus allowing your computer to run faster.

3. Scan your computer
Windows come with a utility called "scandisk" - and it does just that. It scans your drive(s) for errors, and attempts to fix them. It's recommended you do this once every two weeks.

Defragment your drives
Windows also come with a "disk defrag" program that improves performance of your hard drive. If you have a lot of drives, or have a huge drive (over 8GB), running defrag will take a long while. Do this every two weeks. (Normally right after a scandisk Norton SpeedDisk and Diskkeeper are also two other popular defrag programs out there.

Scan your computer for viruses
You do have a virus scanner installed, right? No? Go get one. Then, do virus scans every week, or every two weeks, depending on how much time your computer gets used. I do a scan every Friday night. Don't forget to update your virus definitions!

4. Don't Fry your computer.
Make sure all your computer equipment is hooked up to a surge protector. A simple powersurge (commonly caused by lightning) can take out your *entire* computer system - monitor, CPU, printer, and anything else that is not protected. Just two weeks ago over $20K of computer and video editing equipmet was saved by a fried $19.95 surge protector. I don't know about you, but $19.95 is always better than $20K.

5. Be careful who you give out personal details to
I can't stress this enough - Whatever you do, always be conscious of who you are giving your personal details to. This includes your name, address, phone number, email address, credit card numbers, social security number, etc. - unless you absolutely trust the entity asking for it. Especially your CC numbers, SSN, and email addresses. It should be obvious why you shouldn't, but just in case you don't get it:

Credit Card number
If you give away your credit card number, you're basically giving people a blank check.

Social Security Number
If you give away your social security number (or ID number in some other countries), you're opening yourself to identity thief - something stealing your identity, thus ruining your credit history, your reputation, etc.

Email Address
Three words: Unsolicited Commercial Email... or one: SPAM. Unless the website you give your email to have a privacy statement that states clearly what they do with your email, never give it away. If possible, never post your email address on a website either (I'm staff... I'm required to post mine on HeavenGames... you should see the amount of spam I get) - there are automated programs that harvest your email off websites.

( Just so you know, HeavenGame's email policy is that your emails are NEVER shared with, rented to, or sold to anyone. We know the pain of receiving spam. )

If you are an AOL user, use a different screenname dedicated for chat rooms. And create yourself a different AIM screenname. Basically, keep secret the screenname you login to AOL with.

In addition, if AOL asks you to re-verify your password, it's fake. If AOL asks you to re-verify your credit card number, NEVER, EVER do it over the web. Do it over the phone with the number on your AOL bill.

Avoid their chatrooms!!! They have bots that "fish" your screenname out of the room, add to the end of that screenname, and send to it a lot of nasty spam.

6. Precautions to take for children users

Computer/internet use should always be supervised by you. The internet is a PG-medium - it always require Parental Guidance. If you can't supervise their internet usage, then you probably should install some software that lock them out of the internet, or just plain-old lock them out of your computer.

Most kids don't know what safe computing is too, so they can throw all your safe computing efforts out the window.

I leave the decision of when the kid is old enough to use the 'net unsupervised up to you

7. Precautions to take if you share your computer

Try not to share it if possible... otherwise, teach them safe-computing, but more importantly, if they don't own the computer, make sure they know you're the owner and you frown upon them installing any programs or downloading anything to the hard drive without your approval

If you share your computer, make sure other users practice safe computing as well

8. Install a "Firewall"

If you have a broadband connection and your computer is on a lot, you may want to install a firewall to protect your computer from hacking attemps that come from other computers on the internet. ZoneAlarm is a popular firewall package that is easy to use and is free.

For more information, a great resource to start at is Gibson Research Corporation's "Shields Up" page.

9. Backup your computer
Don't forget to "backup" your computer once in a while. Or at least save all your data onto ZIP disks or CD's. Important Data include all your stuff in "My Documents", your email files, your ICQ database (C:\program files\icq\*), and anywhere else you save your stuff in.

The easier way is to purchase backup software, such as Backup MyPC. It will let you burn your backup onto many CD's should you decide to do a complete backup of your system.

10. Housekeeping
Don't forget to clean out old files and uninstall old programs!

Speaking of uninstalling, always uninstall by going to Start->Settings->Control Panel->Add/Remove Programs. Otherwise you risk breaking other software programs in more ways than one, or leave behind a dirty uninstall. (i.e. files that didn't get deleted, etc.)

I think that's all... I'm sure ET and some of yous will have other ideas to tack on to this


[This message has been edited by Angel Zen (edited 09-10-2003 @ 02:53 AM).]

posted 04-12-02 15:42 ET (US)     26 / 46  
You know that whole part about it being windows? That's why it sucks. If you're having that many problems, reinstall.
posted 04-13-02 18:36 ET (US)     27 / 46  
Oh, ok...

posted 11-15-02 03:51 ET (US)     28 / 46  
Well, that's a post. It's about everything I do. In addition, I use MailWasher1326, which lets you choose which mail to download, block, blacklist, and bounce. Great program.
posted 01-06-03 08:02 ET (US)     29 / 46  
I did have an anti-spyware program, which would search for all Spyware folders, programs and registery keys. But I lost it and I can't find the program. Itīs called Ad-Aware, I canīt find it anymore but I want it.

I also have a question about partitioning your harddrive. I have four partitions, one for the OS, one for games, one for documents, excel files, etc. and one for things that donīt fit into the other 3. Now if I get a virus, will all partitions be infected?

posted 01-06-03 08:30 ET (US)     30 / 46  
EJ you can get ad-ware from I think that is the site or you can search google for ad-ware Any partition can be infected with a virus depending on how you use it. For example email usually carries viruses so if you save your email on a partition other than the operating system partition then the partition it's on will be infected. The best thing is to scan all files before downloading or installing
posted 01-07-03 09:54 ET (US)     31 / 46  
EJ, I think there are also links to sites where you can download Ad-Aware at
posted 05-22-03 01:25 ET (US)     32 / 46  
Your August Sirs,

Shields Up is a good referal, thanks. However, I could not find any discussion of Win-XP in his network adapter bondage section, help?

Does anyone have suggestions for Pop-up Suppression? When I am not in Heaven I am... well somewhere rife with unwanted page launches. Hey, my mom lets me!


J a c k N o i r
(how do you like the new "thinner" me?)

[This message has been edited by Jack Noir (edited 05-22-2003 @ 01:36 AM).]

posted 05-22-03 17:42 ET (US)     33 / 46  
Jack: when I'm on Linux, I use Mozilla: it has a built in popup-killer.
For IE, I recommend Proxomitron. It's a local 'proxy server' which can do anything: kill popups, kill most ads, change headers etc.

the thinner you looks good

posted 09-09-03 18:00 ET (US)     34 / 46  
Hi Angel Zen. Went to Veritas site reference your advice on backup, took your heading "Veritas Backup MyPC" literally, could find nothing under that heading.
posted 09-10-03 02:54 ET (US)     35 / 46  
Thanks. Link updated.

(Mozilla & Mozilla Firebird have popup-killers, and does almost everything proximitron does with a little tweaking and some plugins like tabbrowser)

posted 09-10-03 02:57 ET (US)     36 / 46  
Re: Spyware

Adaware is good... but lately I've been using Spybot Search and Destroy... it's everything Adaware is, plus some management tools to block some programs some auto-installing, a comprehensive list of descriptions for each program that loads at startup, and a reporting tool that can help some others troubleshoot your computer.

posted 09-10-03 03:08 ET (US)     37 / 46  
I use Spybot Search and seems to pick up things Adaware misses..especially those nCase vermin

Spybot can be brutal if a user isn't aware of what is OK and not..though it doesn't take long to sort these things out

Great recommend as usual Zen, thanks

Now if I could just get a handle on my email..broadband is great, but who wants SPAM to arrive this quickly?


posted 09-18-03 17:20 ET (US)     38 / 46  
Greetings Angel Zen. Followed your link to Backup MyPC but could find nothing listed with them under that title.
posted 10-07-04 01:30 ET (US)     39 / 46  
Hrm... gonna have to update this soon
posted 10-07-04 08:17 ET (US)     40 / 46  
What you think an update on a 2 and half year old thread
posted 10-07-04 08:45 ET (US)     41 / 46  
Better than starting a new one
posted 10-07-04 09:16 ET (US)     42 / 46  
Angel Zen,

I, for one, thank you for renewing this thread. I didn't know it was here until you did and I notice that it has a slew of good information. I plan on following the advise you give over the weekend.


posted 10-07-04 15:55 ET (US)     43 / 46  
Some quick addendums if you're planning to follow the guide, since a *lot* has changed since:
* I highly recommend using Firefox for using as Browser:
* and Thunderbird instead of Eudora, Outlook, or Outlook Express for email:
* DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER. You're asking for trouble if you do
* Gaim is a good alternative to AOL IM and ICQ, both of which comes with spyware. Gaim is like Trillian, only it's free and isn't saddled with too much cruft:
* If you're sharing computers at home and use Windows XP, and everyone's still sharing the same account to login, consider setting up separate user accounts for each. Then enable privacy controls on your files so your other friends/roommates/family members can't snoop on your home directory (which includes your "My Documents" folder)
* BackUp MyPC has been sold to a different company called StompSoft. Another alternative might be to use Norton Ghost 9.0, which backs up your entire drive and comes with a recovery CD you can use to quickly restore your drive from.
* Since the publication of the article we've seen an explosion of spyware/malware ... I'll have a new section dedicated to it, but in the meantime, get SpyBot Search and Destroy (link) and Adaware (link), run the auto-update on each, and then scan your computer for malware/spyware. In SpyBot, run immunization as well so that it protects IE from most *known* auto-installing crap. (Hint: IE isn't just used in IE - it's built into Windows - that's why you still need to run this despite the fact you use another browser)
* There'll be a new section on saving your precious data - especially digital pictures - onto CDs. But for now, make sure you buy blanks from TWO different manufacturers, and everytime you burn a backup you burn two sets, one set for each manufacturer. This way, if one set goes bad because of various factors (incl. bad manufacturing techniques), you can still burn a new set of backup CD's from the other set.

That's about all I can think of... if anyone thinks I missed something plllease post them here


posted 10-08-04 04:25 ET (US)     44 / 46  
Good point about not using IE. I think they create a lot of problems. I've changed to using Firefox, except when I'm playing on MSN Zone, because the only accepted browser is IE. My friend couldn't use IE because the connection would be terribly slow whenever she did. I recommended her to use Firefox a couple of weeks ago, and now she's able to surf the net again.

Zen, perhaps you could include this new update in the header post.

posted 03-04-06 15:42 ET (US)     45 / 46  
Are IE and Outlook Express really that bad?

I have AVG Free Edition. And every once in a while it tells me its detected a virus. eg Trojan horse IRC/back door...
It seems the same few files are always infected. msupdate32.exe and a few others.

Czech Centurian
"Most Checks are written, I'm a Czech that was born."

Save Water, Drink Beer

posted 01-01-07 14:51 ET (US)     46 / 46  

a good effort mate but I have to ask a favour.

If you're going to use scare tactics to tell people not to use something then please also provide sound reasons, alternatives and steps to use when the person just has to use that program.

Saying things like "Don't use IE, you're in for trouble if you do" is just no-no in the world of computer advice, mate.

For a start, although I'm a big Firefox fan and that is my primary browser, some sites will NOT work in FF and you're forced to use IE.

Also, Mozilla and Microsoft each have a new version of their browsers out which further enhance security with built in pop-up blockers, phishing filters, etc.

Secondly, I've used Outlook since its inception and I'm currently using Outlook 2007. I've NEVER sent out a virus to others. I've used McAfee (ugh, never again), Norton (maybe again if they get their act together) and now the wonderful Avast (free or you can purchase, which has been beating the other two into a pulp.

Yes most viruses will target Outlook but then who do you think the virus protection companies are primarily going to support too?

Finally, I heartily agree with the partitioning advice. I was astonished when Dell started shipping us unpartitioned disks (back when I worked in LAN) rather than the former partitioned ones.

Always keep your data on a separate partition to your OS and programs. If you need to reformat C / reinstall your OS, etc, your data is safe and sound elsewhere.


Lord Michlo

Founder and Protector of Clan Walker

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