Saturday, February 9, 2008

How to protect your digital assets

I posted this on the website of Joel Dehlin, the CIO of the LDS Church in response to a question he asked about how we can protect our digital assets. His post was entitled, "You have the Right to Remain Visible."

Hi Joel,

Good post. In it you wrote, "I’m about as technical as the sole of an old shoe." Oh come on, Joel. You're saying that as the CIO of the church you don't have at least some technical ability in this area? I find that hard to believe. Unless working at Microsoft all those years numbed your technical savvy, that must have been written tongue in cheek.

Seriously, you raise a good point. So many are naive when it comes to protecting their personal home computers from the internet. I have had similar experiences in seeing many open computers when firing up my laptop at home or when travelling. It's just that people don't know about encryption.

What's worse is people who have only one computer in their home which is directly connected to the DSL or cable *without* the firewall turned on. They have no clue that their anti-virus expired months ago and that they have become compromised. They wonder why their computer is so slow. It's because it has become a 'zombie' and is sending out tons of spam under another's control.

I know because I see this all the time. As a computer professional I get calls from people in my ward struggling with this problem in particular. I do not charge for helping them out. I think of the Lord's admonition, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it onto me." It's kind of like an extension of home teaching service.

To answer your question about precautions, here is a short list:

1. Use a firewall. Either make sure the Microsoft firewall is enabled on your XP or Vista machine or use an external firewall. Most people who have a LinkSys wireless router have a firewall and don't know it. Just make sure it is turned on. It is usually on by default so if you haven't changed it, don't worry about it.

2. Clear your cache on a regular basis. It is a simple mater to push the button in Internet Explorer or Firefox but again, most people don't know how. It's just a matter of education. I find that the kids in the family know all about it because they don't want mom and dad to know what sites they have been visiting.

3. Keep your Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware solutions up to date. I know it is a mystery to so many home users but it shouldn't be. They get that new computer for Christmas but don't realize that that the Anti-virus software is a subscription based product that is only good for three months. I can always count on getting calls in April from people who learn this the hard way.

4. Make sure that you only use your credit card number online with secure sites. Today, almost all sites that take credit cards use some method of secure encryption. Never transact online business with companies that do not use encryption. If you see the little padlock in the corner of your browser when you are buying something online, then it is probably secure.

5. If you store lists of credit card numbers or other personal information on your computer in a spreadsheet, consider encrypting that particular spreadsheet. It's not hard to do but most people don't know how to do it. If you use a popular personal financial program like Quicken or MS Money, you can be sure that your financial information stored in the program is encrypted.

6. If you suspect that your Internet Service Provider is tracking the websites you visit, consider changing to another one that does not. In most American communities there are at least three choices for getting on the internet - cable, DSL and now fiber. There are usually a number of small local ISPs that compete with the cable company or phone company. Check it out.

There are more things you can do to protect your digital assets but these are the most common that any home computer user can do. I wish I knew more about how internet access and security (or the lack thereof) works in other countries but that's been my experience here in the United States.

Tim Malone, MCSE - Camarillo, CA - 3tcm.net

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Wallflower said...
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