As a PC devotee, I have never felt more vulnerable to attacks from people I don't know as they continue to exploit the deficiencies in my operating system and the tools I use to make my computing life easier.
Hackers and creators of nasty viruses and worms continue to exploit the vulnerability of Windows, Microsoft Outlook and America Online's Instant Messenger. Huge security holes became evident as 2001 drew to a close, with warnings coming from everyone, ranging from the FBI to the sales clerk at the local supermarket, although the FBI has now admitted it may have overreacted a tad when suggesting a solution to one of the problems.
They had discovered a security hole in the Universal Plug and Play module that's included with Microsoft XP and recommended that everyone disable the feature to ensure that no unauthorized creep would gain access to anyone's computer. Now, this is akin to tearing off all four limbs to any true computer geek. Shut off plug and play? Why not just send me to my room without supper for a month!?
Well, a week later they tempered their solution by saying they had provided the best solution they could have "at the time," but a new patch available on the Microsoft Web site effectively closes the security hole.
As the year turned from 2001 to 2002, it was discovered that hackers could also get at your hard drive through Instant Messenger. There's nary a mention of this problem on the AOL Web site, which means either they've fixed the problem or are ignoring it. Either way, this is a severe blow to those of us addicted to computers. The only solution I can see is to deactivate the program permanently or to make sure that it's not active when we're not using it.
Expect to see a lot more of this in 2002 as hackers and those scurvy virus and worm developers begin to target home computers, which are virtually unprotected, instead of corporate networks.
So, how can you make life miserable for these intruders?
Make sure you have the latest and greatest in virus protection active on your PC (especially to monitor e-mail and attachments) and install a decent firewall, especially if your computer is constantly connected to the Internet using a cable or DSL modem.
I prefer Symantec's Norton Antivirus ($49.95) and ZoneAlarm, which is a free firewall available from Zone Labs at www.zonelabs.com. But there are also many other products available.
Also make sure that your antivirus software is up to date by using LiveUpdate or some other tool to check for updates at the software manufacturer's Web site. I try to do this every two or three days and have Norton set up to automatically download any new virus protection updates automatically to my PC.
Also, if you're using Microsoft Windows, constantly check the Windows Update Web site and download new security patches and other changes, including new drivers and tools. Do the same thing for Microsoft Office.
Believe me when I say these things work well. I've been "attacked" by several worms and viruses in the past few months and, so far, all of them have been stopped dead before they could do any harm to my PC.