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Computers
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Keeping it safe

I have used Norton in its various forms for many years. I remember in the good old days of DOS (disk operating system) — the bald precursor of the graphic user interface of Microsoft Windows. Norton Utilities was one of the first to rescue the beginner in desktop computing. For example, this program gave users the power to undelete files and to defragment their disks, amongst other useful features.
But Norton has come along way. Quite a few years ago it was taken over by Symantec and is now a very sophisticated security protection and computer configuration suite of programs. Probably the most common collection now comes under the banner Norton Internet Security, though something called Norton360 is currently being launched.
There is a lot of trouble out there in the form of computer viruses, Trojan horses, worms, hijacking, spyware, phishing, adware, and spam; to say nothing of the need to housekeep your computer (defrag the disk, delete temporary files and cookies and so on, or tidy up the registry).
All these issues need a lot of attention, that’s for sure. The Norton suite of tools has become a household name through extensive, prolonged marketing. But it should not mean it is necessarily the best, just maybe the best marketed.
In fact I begin to wonder whether Norton has got so big for its boots; and so intrusive in the workings of our computers that is has become more of a monster than the viruses and other security risks it is supposed to be eradicating. The tendency is to ditch such a resource-hungry program. But there is a catch.
We tend to use such anti virus software out of fear and ignorance (few of us, me included, understand really what’s going on). So we may over react when it is having a major impact on the running and behaviour of our computers, and disable the protection altogether.
But we do need some protection, that’s a given. But like most things in life we have to spend more time finding out what’s going on so we can make an informed choice. For us the result was to ditch Norton but to replace it with alternative programs mixed with improved computer management.

The gate

The very first principal in computer security must surely to be to stop an attack at the very beginning, your network cable. All other things being equal there is simply no other way to invade your computer - just that small UTP cable, which links all your computers together on a local area network and to the world wide web.
The first in your armoury should be an email preview program – we use Mailwasher. This works way before the gate, before you even begin to download your email. You configure Mailwasher the same as your email program. Set it up for your mail account, or accounts, creating the usual profile with mail server and password address.
Disable your email program’s auto download. Instead you will decide when and what to download, and even when to despatch email from your outbox. In other words make sure the send/receive options are set to manual.
Once setup you load Mailwasher and choose ‘Check for Mail’. The latest free version of the program will only allow you to set up one mail account. You need to buy the Pro package to be able to add more. However, there is a way to add more accounts to a free version if you go to www.oldversion.com and look for an earlier release – we use v2.0 which, although four or five years old, works fine and you can add as many email accounts as you want.
The program will then load the incoming emails from all of your accounts. You then go through the list, select which to delete and, more importantly, which to bounce. This is a particularly useful feature of the program because emails you ‘bounce’ tell the spam source you don’t exist. In theory this gradually reduces your spam flow. In addition Mailwasher remembers your selections and automatically marks repeat mails from the blacklisted sources so they can be deleted/bounced every time.
Click ‘Delete’ and the unwanted mail is deleted or bounced as per your selections. Once your list is clean, your email program is automatically brought to the front and you can select send/receive as normal.
Mailwasher will display as an icon in the system tray if you leave it running, and will alert you if new mail arrives in any of your accounts.
We have used this particular program for at least five years and it has been a constant reliable companion to warding off spam and mail with potential virus payloads. It is very rare for any of our PC systems to be invaded by a virus, Trojan or worm of any kind.
Working conscientiously this way with your daily mail will probably eliminate 80% or so of your total security risks. By Nigel Benetton
In part four we’ll talk about the next line of defence: a firewall and spam filter

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:20.8 1st September, 2007
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