Friday, June 26, 2009

Security Tips from the Dark Side

Never, ever, connect strange computers to your network. I did, and however briefly, involuntarily became a spammer. While our network is well protected and safe, the client's heavily infested box managed to fire a salvo or two of spam out of it. Since then, we've taken extra measures to ensure this never happens again, and even if it does, to ensure no spam ever comes out of our domain - by closing the standard SMTP port to anyone except the server. Still, this incident clearly demonstrated the importance of basic protection measures.
  1. Do not connect strange computers to your network. Fire them up first and scan them for malware. If the computer is infected especially badly, consider taking its hard disks out and scaning them on a separate, well protected machine.
  2. Scan them regularly with a good anti-malware agent. We use AVG, Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool, and now testing Microsoft Security Essentials, an amazingly lightweight anti-malware agent.
  3. Do not use unknown anti-malware tools. Do not click on "free virus scan" ads the web is peppered with. Use only well-known tools from the likes of Microsoft, AVG, Symantec, etc.
  4. Make sure your administrative accounts are password-protected. If the administrator account has no password, make one and do it now. Even if it's just two characters, this is the very first step in protecting your computer and saving yourself from embarrassment. Better yet, make it a 6-8 character password that has lower case letters and capitals, as well as a digit or two, and a special character like "{" or "$". Having a password in plain view on a stickie on your monitor is bad, but way better than having no password at all.

    Why: an infested computer will commonly try to infest other computers on a network by probing open shares. If your computer has an "open" (no password) administrative account, the chances of getting infested are much higher.

    How: in most Windows versions, log into your administrative account, hit Ctrl-Alt-Del, click on "change password". In XP and Vista, you may have to go to Control Panel, User Accounts, and change password(s) that way. Go through all user accounts with administrative privileges and ensure they all have passwords.

  5. Quit using your "administrator" account. After you created a decent password for your "administrator" account, quit using it. Administrative accounts are primarily for administrative tasks: major software and hardware installations, other users' password resets, joining and disjoining domains and workgroups, diagnostics and trouble-shooting. Do not use them for general and day-to-day tasks.

    How: create a new account, call it "Hugo" (if that's your name), assign it administrative privileges if you must, set a decent password. Thank you. You just made my life, or a life of your "computer guy" much easier. He will thank you, but most importantly, you will thank yourself later, more than once.

  6. Never ever under any circumstances share a whole drive, and specifically, your "Windows" or "Program Files" folders. XP, Vista and Windows 7 already have "Shared Documents" or "Public Folders" that are shared among users on the same computer, and can also be shared on the network. It is a good practice to only use that folder for shared docs and files.

  7. Have a knowledgeable computer person check your computer every few months. Ensure it's patched, virus-free, lint and dust-free inside (saves electricity - serious!), junk-free: old temporary files - purged, applications you no longer use - uninstalled.

These simple steps, together with regular maintenance, will make your computers and network much less vulnerable to malware, and nearly eliminate the chances of becoming an involuntary spammer.

Happy Friday! :)

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