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by Tom Berry
(trust him - he's older now)

Hackers and Virii
Be very, very aware

(virii: the plural of virus, at least in the lofty heights of technolinguistics)

Until computers came along, worms were for fishing and viruses made you sick. Now worms and Trojans are viruses that make computers sick. Collectively these bad things are called malware (short for malicious software). Breaking into your computer through the internet is called hacking and those who do the breaking in are hackers.

In 1995, computer viruses were not a concern (I was busy trying to get the new ‘World Wide Belch Contest’ noticed via the online ‘New Groups’ and was getting ‘flamed’ for the attempt because promoting was not allowed on the Internet). In 1996 they were.

Now our internet reality is so far removed from 1995 that it might as well be two centuries ago. But virii are still alive and well, and hacking is still going on big time and big crime. 

Just to calm your fears, let me say there is no perfect way to protect yourself unless you turn your computer off. (Are you calmer?) But you can do a lot to lower the risk.

Use good anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date. But remember that no anti-virus software can perfectly protect from all forms of malware and other exploits: suspect everything you receive over the internet. Don't click links in emails or download attachments unless you are really sure of the source, and sure that the source has not been hacked (even if it's your own loving mother). Don't be paranoid; just be very, very aware.

I suggest using the Mozilla browser called Firefox, which you can download for free. Then routinely select "About Firefox" in the top menus to install updates (you should be prompted if there are updates available).

I like Firefox because it allows you to install "add-ons", and one of those add-ons is NoScript by Giorgio Maone. NoScript blocks attempts by web sites to invoke nasty hack attempts like "cross-scripting" which exploits vulnerabilities in web browsers. Be warned, though, that if you are used to having online forms automatically filled out for you (common with online ordering) NoScript may prompt you for permission to "allow this page" before letting that happen. I consider that a small annoyance in order keep your machine from being gutted by some foreign entity trying to really mess you up—whether for money or just for the joy of it.

The actual chances of getting hacked are actually fairly slim. And if you do get hacked, there are many ways to get back where you were, pre-hack, and put the experience behind you. But don't let that calm you into being careless. One of the best security devices for a computer can be the human running it.

Posted 10/21/2011