Mountain Area Information Network

12 Steps for Making Windows Safer to Use on the Internet

How MAIN Protects You


Avoid the problem.
One of the best ways to avoid security problems on the internet is to not use Windows. It has many, many security holes and Microsoft will be patching it for a long time. Here are some alternatives that have far, far fewer security problems:
Apple Macintosh
Linux


Install an Anti-Virus Program
Viruses and other unfriendly programs can get onto Windows computers through email, websites or just being connected to the internet with no programs active, just sitting there with no web browser or email programs running.

AVG Update: We have been recommending AVG Free, but the download for the new version is so large it may take all day to download if you are on dial up.

It would probably be better to get the free version of Avast: Avast (Look under the Desktop or Home version) as it is a smaller download. Also, you can get the Antivirus portion of PC Tools here: PC Tools

Here is the link for AVG AVG Free Edition, a program from Grisoft.com for non-commercial users.

Note: If you have another antivirus package, you should remove those other programs.

Also, Apple is now recommending that you use an antivirus program. Get the free Mac version of Avast: Avast Mac Edition

Online Scanning for Viruses
Trend Micro's House Call is a free general-purpose online virus scanner that can assist in the identification and removal of viruses if you suspect a virus has gotten by your antivirus program. Be sure to double-click the virus name (if one is found and not marked as Cleaned) for further directions on how to clean out the infection.
You can also use NanoScan by Panda.

Other options for virus scanning include:
Kaspersky.com, Panda Software's ActiveScan, and Symantec's Security Check.

If you know you have a virus, you can try the freeTrend Micro System Cleaner Package. Be sure to read this first, and download the latest pattern file for use with it.

A List of Current Viruses
For a frequently-updated, detailed listing of viruses to watch out for, visit Trend Micro's Virus Information Center or Symantec's Security Response.

Some Viruses are Hoaxes
What's worse, some of these hoaxes tell you to delete important files from your computer such that you become the virus. Before you follow directions to delete system files or forward a message to all your friends, verify with a reputable source that the "fix" isn't itself the virus.


Protect Against Spyware
Most anti-virus software will not protect you from spyware. Popups, changing your startup page and intrusive programs are generally aquired from web pages you have visited or have been forced to go to. You can try these anti-spyware programs available for download:

Web Beacons
Definition of a Web Beacon
Yahoo is one of the companies using "Web Beacons" to track users around the net to see what they are doing and what sites are visited, something similar to cookies. Yahoo is recording every website and every group you visited.
Here is Yahoo's privacy statement
On this page about half-way down, you will see a "web beacons" link. Clicking on it will bring you to "Outside the Yahoo Network." Look for the "Please click here to opt-out." link. It will let you "opt-out" of their method of following you around the internet. Once you have clicked that link, you are exempted. The "opt-out" is not user-specific.You will have to opt-out on each computer and/or browser you use.


Install a Firewall

Firewall Definition

From Webopaedia:"A system designed to prevent unauthorized access to or from a private network. Firewalls can be implemented in both hardware and software, or a combination of both. Firewalls are frequently used to prevent unauthorized Internet users from accessing private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets. All messages entering or leaving the intranet pass through the firewall, which examines each message and blocks those that do not meet the specified security criteria."

How FireWalls Work
Click Here

Caution: Make sure you are able to connect correctly to the internet and everything is working properly, before you install a firewall. Test it for a while and make sure everything works well, then install the firewall. If you cannot connect properly after the firewall is installed, it may need to be configured to work with your internet connection or you may need to uninstall it and try another one, or do without. WARNING:Some firewalls have an update function which may make it work fine for a while, then disallow internet connections after some update.

For a basic software firewall, there is a free version of a popular product: Zone Alarm. This is a free personal firewall for non-commercial use on Windows. This will help block hacking attempts into your computer while you are online.

More Firewall Information

There are other firewalls available, you would need to research your needs and the range of choices to find a match.

If you need a hardware firewall, you should probably contact a computer technician familiar with this subject to help you get a solution for this.

If You Install a Firewall on Windows XP:

you may need to disable the internal XP firewall. To do this click Start=>Control Panel=>doubleclick Network Connections, doubleclick the internet connection, go to Properties => Advanced tab Internet Connection Firewall, check or uncheck Protect my computer and Network by limiting or preventing access to this computer from the Internet. Click OK at the bottom of the windows to close them and save the changes.


Update Windows, your Antivirus and Antispyware software
Check to make sure Windows is set to update automatically. It will probably give you a reminder if it is not set for that somtimes when you go online.
Regularly update your antivirus software (see above links to the most common websites.) As new viruses are detected, vendors of AV software release updated virus definitions or signature files that will detect and clean viruses. It is highly recommended that you update your software to add these new signature files at least once a month. Exception: Surfin' Guard doesn't require frequent updating.
Also, regularly update Spybot and Ad-Aware.


Use Firefox for web pages and Thunderbird for email
Avoid Internet Explorer created by Microsoft, which is full of security holes and use Firefox for viewing your web pages instead. It also blocks popups (see below).
How Firefox Works
Thunderbird (email) is a better email program than Outlook Express. It handles malformed emails, large emails and lots of stored messages that Outlook Express may have trouble with.
Get Firefox and Thunderbird


Avoid Popups from Websites
Popups are web pages, usually ads or offers, that you did not request. They may appear in front of or behind the web page you wanted. Some web browsers such as Firefox have a built in popup blocker. The MegaSpeed accelerator also has built in popup blocking.


Cookies
Every time you ask a server on the Internet for a webpage (by clicking on a link or typing one into the Address Bar), your request is sent, and the webpage information is returned to your computer. Your web browser then displays the file to you, and you read the webpage.

If you ask for another page by clicking on a link, the web server for that site has no way of knowing that you are the same person who requested the webpage earlier. The web server cannot differentiate between your request and any of the other thousands of requests it gets, because it is just like a bank teller that doesn't remember your face, and must ask for ID every time.

Sometimes, web designers would like to let you visit a site, and have you make some choices. Due to the inability of the webserver, there is no way to make those choices "stick". To make this happen, the webserver gives your computer a small text file, called a cookie. Within this file, your particular settings, encrypted (jumbled up) passwords, and the like are stored. Next time you return to this website, the cookie is read, and you do not have to re-adjust the website, or chose "Jazz" as your favorite category at "Your Record Club" On-line. The website will remember you, and even that you like Louis Armstrong.

Now that you see how useful cookies can be, you should be forewarned that they have a dark side. They

can be used by unscrupulous web page designers and operators to coax you into entering your name, email address, and other personal information, then allowing other (unscrupulous) web site operators to read the cookie. In essence, they could be used to track your movements from site to site, and share your email address among various sites. An example of this is explained at the World Wide Web Consortium's web security FAQ. Personally, I accept all cookies, and am very careful to only give my email address out to sites that I can trust.

Resources about Cookies:

How Cookies Work
from Howstuffworks.com


TweakUI
A control panel/program for customizing Windows settings.
What it does
TweakUI for Windows 2000, Windows NT, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 98 or Windows 95
TweakUI for XP


Backup Your Data
Some viruses contain destructive payloads that can delete all of the data on your hard drive. And though a good, regularly updated AV program will help avoid many problems, it is better to be safe than sorry. A general rule of thumb is to back up any data that you cannot afford to lose onto a ZIP disk, CD-ROM, or floppy disks.
How to use Windows XP Backup
How to use Windows Vista Backup


Protect Against Problems from Email

Postini
Postini is available for all MAIN email accounts. This service uses automated filters to check each piece of incoming mail for viruses, and can also be set to catch spam. Filtered mail is kept out of your inbox, but available for viewing at your convenience. Click the above link for complete details. Do not entirely rely on Postini for antivirus protection. It only checks for viruses coming in through email. You can get viruses through surfing the web and other sources. We recommend the free program, AVG Free Edition.

What appears as obvious spam to the naked eye may make it through the Postini filters if it doesn't rank high enough based on your filter settings or on the database of known spam types they maintain. That's why submitting examples to them will help improved things for us all. They don't incorporate submissions immediately though. As the spammers change their tactics, Postini adjusts their filters to catch the new versions.

To send spam to Postini
Postini does want examples of spam sent to them. Save the email as a file and send it as an attachment to: spam@postini.com
Here is an example of the email you will get in return: Thank you for submitting spam email to Postini. Enclosed emails are automatically added to our extensive database of spam samples. We analyze the emails in this database to tune our heuristic filters to increase filter accuracy. You should not expect a reply or evaluation of why spam was or was not quarantined. The best method for submitting spam to us is to enclose the spam email with headers intact. In Outlook or Outlook Express, create a new email and then drag the spam email on top of the new email. This will ensure that we receive the spam, with headers intact, for proper evaluation.
Roughly 90% of the spam submitted to spam@postini.com made it to users' mailboxes because of one of the following common configuration errors:
1) The spam was sent to an address that does not have spam filtering enabled.
2) An entry in an Approved Senders list caused the spam to be delivered. This is often the case with "Phishing" scams that target users of Ebay.com.
3) The mail never went through Postini.
All valid submissions will be added to our sample database. For instructions on how to submit spam samples from Microsoft Outlook, please see:
http://www.postini.com/tutorials/ms_outlook.php
For Lotus Notes, please see:
http://www.postini.com/tutorials/lotus_notes.php

Postini uses software that scans e-mail based on a database of known spam types. If a spammer uses something that does not match Postini's filter it will pass even though, to the naked eye, it's obvious spam.
You can help improved these filters by sending Postini a copy of any junk that gets through. Just turn on the "full header" option (in Netscape messenger click view, headers, and all), save the message as a file, and send that file as an attachment to
spam@postini.com
Also, DO NOT answer these e-mails or click on any links. There have been many that appear to come from MAIN but are not. Those bogus messages included an attachment and MAIN does not send attachments unless we've told you to expect one. Even then it's best to verify something with the sender before taking any action IF you know the sender. If not, just delete it.


Attachments, Think Before you Click
If you are not sure of an email just delete it. It is better to get rid of the email than getting a virus, trojan horse or spyware. Do not respond to it or open any attachments if you don't know the sender. Anyone can send out an email with a reply address of whatever they want. Viruses do this all the time. To correct the problem, encourage people you send emails to to use antivirus protection to reduce the spread of viruses.

If you do want to open attachments or click on links you receive through e-mail, it's a good idea to contact the sender to be sure that they:
1) created the file themselves and
2) sent the file to you intentionally.
Viruses usually send themselves without any participation from the person whose name is listed as the message originator.

Choose to view those file extensions!
The default Windows configuration hides "common file extensions," like .EXE and .SCR that are commonly virus extensions, from your view. Therefore, an attachment with a name like "pictures.gif.scr" will appear in your email with the name "pictures.gif" leading you to believe that the attachment is simply a GIF image when it is in fact a virus.

To change this default setting in Windows 98 and above:

  • Launch Windows Explorer (either from your Start menu or your desktop);

  • In Windows Explorer, choose "Folder Options..." from the "Tools" menu;
  • In the window that opens, click the "View" tab;
  • Then, deselect the option in the list that says: "Hide file extensions for known file types";
  • Click "OK" to accept this change.

To change this default setting in Windows 95:

  • Launch Windows Explorer (Start->Programs->Windows Explorer)

  • In Windows Explorer, choose "Options" from the "View" menu;
  • In the window that opens, deselect the bottom options that says: "Hide MS-DOS file extensions for file types that are registered";
  • Click "OK" to accept this change.

Be Alert for Phishing and Scams
You may receive emails supposedly from eBay, Amazon.com, MAIN, a bank or other financial institution requesting you confirm your account number, credit card numbers, email address, home address, bank balance and other sensitive financial information. The sending this kind of imitation email is called "phishing". Some of them look very convincing. Check to make sure they are really who they say they are before you give out any information.

How Phishing Works

How to Tell if an Email is From MAIN
As many of you have noticed, there has been a significant increase in the number of emails being sent that appear to come from MAIN. In almost every case (this message being one obvious exception), these are viruses that are NOT coming from MAIN, but are using phony email addresses and other tactics to impersonate our subscriber communications.

We have established a Web page containing detailed information about how to deal with these messages. You may access this page by clicking here.

Here is some basic information that will help in most cases:

  • Emails from MAIN will never have a county domain name attached (such as

admin@madison.main.nc.us), but will instead only come from an address such as help@main.nc.us (with no county name). However, keep in mind that a phony email may use a proper address.

  • We will never send you information via attachment unless you are actively

working with the Help Desk and have discussed the attachment with us ahead of time.

  • If we are directing you to a page on our Web site, we will give you the

address for the home page and then instructions for navigating to the site from there (as above). Some of the phony messages contain links that appear to be on MAIN, but will redirect you elsewhere.

  • We will never ask you for account information via email, or ask you to

"confirm" account information on a Web site.

Email Saying your MAIN Account is Suspended
Your email account has not been suspended, the notice is from a virus that is trying to act like us so you will open the attachment and spread the virus from your computer. Anyone can send out an email with a reply address of whatever they want. Viruses do this all the time. To correct the problem, encourage people you send emails to to use antivirus protection to reduce the spread of viruses.


How MAIN Protects You
Besides the Postini service for filtering viruses and email, MAIN also protects your privacy and account information.

Passwords
We cannot change accounts without the password for it. MAIN has a strict password security policy - we need a signed release from the subscriber of record (you) to give it out by phone or fax (email is not used, for security reasons.) If you need a copy of the letter we sent you originally, we can send that to the mail address in our records without a release. Please send a message to reception@main.nc.us if you would like us to mail that, or fax us a release with your signature on it authorizing us to give out the password on this account toll free at 866-329-9629 or in Buncombe 254-2286 (make sure to include your signature). You should also specify the phone number for response on the release, and whether it is a fax or a phone.

Privacy
Please be assured that MAIN has the strictest privacy policy among Internet service providers. As a nonprofit, noncommercial organization, we absolutely do NOT sell or share our subscriber lists with ANYONE.
Privacy Policy
Every MAIN user also has to agree to the terms of the User Agreement.

How did someone get my address when I haven't given it to them?
Many commercial websites and spammmers sell or share information about who has visited their websites. Other ways your address can spread is through a virus, either on your machine or on someones' machine that you correspond with who added you to their Address Book. This makes antivirus programs important in protecting your information.

Telnet and SSH
Both telnet and SSH are both disallowed for security reasons.

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