Internet Security – What is it and why do I need it?

Did you know that most computer viruses don’t come from email anymore? They come from infected websites. And, they’re not just viruses but botnets and trojan horses. What is all this stuff? A botnet is a piece of software that is placed on your computer that has instructions to do various things like send out viruses and other bots. Sometimes they even have instructions to record your keystrokes and send them back to the originator. Those keystrokes contain your passwords to certain sites. A trojan horse is a program that offers to install a useful item, like a menu bar, and then as part of the install it puts viruses or botnets on your computer. Another thing they could do is to open backdoors to your computer to allow entry at some future point for someone to put a bot or keyboard recorder on your computer.

This all said, it is critical that you have an anti-virus program and a firewall on your computer. Yes, browsers are getting better with their security (see the Firefox article) but people creating the malware are continually working on ways to get around the security. When looking for an antivirus program, look for one that has both antivirus protection and a firewall built in. Don’t trust the Windows Firewall that is installed with your operating system. If you don’t have a firewall, a good free firewall is COMODO Firewall (http://www.personalfirewall.comodo.com/). Another one is Zone Alarm (http://www.zonealarm.com/store/content/catalog/products/zonealarm_free_firewall.jsp). When you install a firewall, you’ll have to teach it what programs to allow to connect to the internet so for the first few days, you’ll be getting popups asking.

As for anti-virus software, the best ones you’ll have to pay for, and there are a couple of free ones that are pretty good. AVG (http://free.avg.com/) and Avast (http://www.avast.com/eng/avast_4_home.html) will give you good virus protection. Whatever anti-virus program you use, make sure that it is set to automatically download updates. There are thousands of new malware items released each month so it’s critical that your computer is protected.

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Firefox Bookmark Links

Someone asked me how to create links to frequently used websites in Firefox. Firefox has the search engine links to the right of the address bar, and though you can add additional links, you are somewhat limited to what they offer. However, you can create icons to frequently used sites on the menu bar and this video will show you how.

Software Support Plans – Are they worth it?

I had someone ask me the other day if they should bother purchasing the annual software support plan if they never call the vendor for support. It’s a good questions since the support plan isn’t cheap. Unlike insurance for your car or house, where it’ll be replaced or repaired if something happens, software support plans cover tech support and software upgrades. If you don’t ever call for support, and are happy with your software the way it is, then what’s the problem with letting the plan lapse? For the most part, there isn’t a problem with it. Many people keep their laptops and software running for several years and are fine. However, then MIcrosoft introduces a new operating system, and your laptop breaks so you are forced to purchase a new laptop, with the new operating system on it, and your old software won’t run on the new setup. What then? When you call the vendor and request a version of the software that will run with the new setup, they’ll let you know that you need to pay for the years you let the contract go before you can get the new upgrade. In this, I’m referring to the CAT vendors, not necessarily other software vendors, though for the most part, with other software vendors you don’t have to purchase support plans, you can pay for the calls as you need them and even pay for the upgrades at a greatly reduced cost of the regular program. CAT vendors are different though. Their market is much smaller than the general public, since they are in a niche market, so once they sell their software, they don’t have a lot of people going in daily to purchase more software. What the contract price allows the vendor to do is to pay it’s programmers to make the software work better and more efficiently. Without the money from the users, it’s much harder for the vendor to make improvements, which ultimately makes your job easier. I know it’s hard to justify the cost of the plan when you’re writing that check, but in the long run, by improving the software and making upgrades available to you, it will help you in the end. Besides, you’re going to have to pay the cost the next time you need to upgrade your hardware/software.

What’s so great about Firefox?

The prior post introduced you to Google’s new browser, Chrome. However, Mozilla just came out with an update for their popular browser Firefox (you can download it here: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/).

What are some of the benefits to Firefox 3? There are several but the biggest are with the security features. Firefox 3 protects you from viruses, worms, trojan horses and spyware. If you accidentally access an attack site, you’ll receive a full-sized browser message as a warning. A continuously updated list of attack-sites keeps this very current. Next, there is their Anti-Phishing protection. This allows you to shop and do business safely on the Internet. Firefox gets a fresh update of web forgery sites 48 times in a day, so if you try to visit a fraudulent site that’s pretending to be a site you trust (like your bank), a browser message—big as life—will stop you. You can also very easily clear your private data automatically—with just one click or a keyboard shortcut. Your info is gone for good—on your own computer or the one at your local library. It’s that easy.

As for searching, you can access your favorite search engines from the integrated search bar. It’s just to the right of the address bar. You can use a new search engine for each search, or stay with your favorite. Choose from a preset dropdown list of engines or select “manage search engines” from the same list to browse search engine options offered as add-ons.

They’ve also made it less memory intensive so if you have several programs open, there’s more memory to go around.

And, they have added a zoom feature from the view menu so those pages where the words are hard to read, you can now zoom the screen to make them larger. Firefox saves the settings for that page so the next time you go back to it, it’s already set on zoom.

One thing that I really like is that in the event of a crash, the next time you go back into Firefox, it will ask if you want to reopen the pages you were on before the crash. How great is that?

Firefox has been able to update and securitize their browser much faster than Microsoft can do with Internet Explorer. It has some great features and many people are using it as their primary browser. There are still some older web based programs that will not run under Firefox, but for regular browsing, it is well worth the look.

Google’s New Browser

Well, from one of the most popular, well okay, the most popular search engines, we now have a browser to compete with Internet Explorer and Firefox. What’s different about Google Chrome (that’s what it’s named)? First, there are “Links to websites you visit the most – Chances are you visit some websites on a regular basis. The New Tab page provides image thumbnails and links for those websites automatically.

Right-click a website to access options to open it in another new tab, in a new window, or in incognito mode. Click the Show full history link at the bottom of the page to see your entire browsing history in Google Chrome.” (Google site)

Second, there is a list of search engines that you use often – “Google Chrome saves a list of search engines that you’ve encountered while browsing the Internet. Search boxes for the ones you frequently use automatically appear on the page for easy access. You can search their websites directly from this page.” (Google Site)

You also have a link to Recently closed tabs – “Links to tabs that you’ve just closed are stored in case you accidentally close something. Up to three links are displayed.” (Google Site)

The address bar acts as both the address bar for websites and the search bar for google. You’ll see recommended sites as you type in the bar.

It’s still in Beta mode, which means that there will be some minor issues with it but I’ve been playing with it a bit since earlier this evening, and it’s plain, simple, and seems pretty friendly. I’ll let you know more about it as I use it more.