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Defensive Computing

If someone comes to your door and asks to come in and watch your TV (and they weren’t your friend), you wouldn’t let them do it.  At the same time, if someone contacts you online and ask you to click on a link or download something, you might be more trusting.  But should you?

 Image2Every day, we casually make hundreds of decisions ranging from mundane to life-changing.  When we're browsing on the Internet, we may never ask ourselves two important questions:

What can go wrong?
What can I do to manage the risk?

Yesterday, the Help Desk received a call from a library.  There was an odd pop-up coming from the system tray after the staff person had visited Facebook from a staff PC.  The staff person hadn’t clicked on anything, yet the PC was clearly infected with malware.  Automation staff eventually had to re-image the PC.  This is the third infected PC in as many weeks.  What’s going on and what can you do to reduce the chances of this happening in the future - other than to stop browsing the Internet?

Malware, software designed to interfere with a computer's normal functioning (read steal data or turn your PC into a “zombie”), has become big business for cybercriminal involvement in general and Web 2.0 sites (e.g. Facebook and MySpace) in particular.  Internet browsers have become prime targets to inject malware into PCs from third-party ads that are posted on both legitimate and illegitimate web sites.

Why didn’t the PC's antivirus software catch the malware?  Often, the malware is so new that the antivirus vendor hasn’t had time to identify it as a problem and design and release a “fix”.  Symantec, an antivirus vendor, reported a 265% increase in new malicious code last year.


Obviously, you can’t know if a particular website (dodgy or not) or its associated ads contain malware but there are two things that you can do to decrease your risks while browsing:

1) Practice safe browsing (First page only)

2) Browse with Firefox and security addons instead of Internet Explorer (when possible)

No browser can offer 100% protection but Firefox with addons can prevent unauthorized web sites (like third party ad sites) from running JavaScript, Java, Flash or other plug-ins to keep your browsing sessions more safe.

A Play Date to “Get More Out of Firefox” is being offered on Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stay tuned next week for specifics on Firefox and security addons.


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