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RIRS.ORG #13
Firewalls

August 2001

 

This is a follow-up on the virus protection article in the last issue.  After doing the research for my previous article, I decided to get Norton’s firewall protection as a package deal along with the newest anti-virus protection.  A “firewall” is software or hardware that puts a protective “wall” between the contents of your computer and it’s connection to the outside world, ie: your internet connection.  Businesses have them to prevent industrial espionage.  When a computer is on-line, an outside hacker has ways to connect to your computer and have access to your files.  In some cases, after your computer has been infected with one of the newer worms, a “backdoor” is created that allows the hacker to even change data on your computer.  This is not usually a big problem with those who have phone-line internet connections for a couple of reasons.  First, their internet connection terminates when they hang up the phone. Secondly, their IP address is randomly assigned to their computer each time they log onto the internet, making them difficult to trace.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with high speed connections like  cable and DSL.  With a these connections, you are on-line whenever your computer is turned on, even if you do not open your browser (Internet Explorer or Netscape).  In the case of the “backdoors” mentioned above, I understand it is theoretically possible for the hacker to use the 24 hour cable connection to actually turn on your computer himself.  To make matters worse, with a cable or DSL connection, your computer is assigned a permanent IP address.  This makes it simple for the hacker to find and access your system after having made the first contact and finding you vulnerable.

            Don’t despair and write off these high-speed connections however. An inexpensive software firewall will protect you from intrusions and even notify you when these intrusions are being attempted.  It is this notification process that has prompted me to advise the use of firewalls.

When I first installed the Norton personal firewall on my system, I was astonished to find how frequently the firewall found it necessary to block outside access to my computer.  It isn’t unusual for the firewall to block access a half dozen times while I’m online. The firewall also prompts you each time a webpage you are accessing wants to load a Javascript or an Active X control, giving you the option of allowing or blocking this action.  Javascript and Active X controls are usually benign animations etc.  However each has the potential to do harm to your computer and should not be accepted from sites you do not trust. The software also has Privacy controls that can be set.  You can put in the last few digits of your social security number, charge card numbers etc. and the firewall will not let them be sent out (either by you accidentally or by a hacker) unless you allow it or unless you are on a “secure” site.

A quick word on secure sites is in order.  Do not order items on-line with a credit card or give out important information unless you are on a “secure” site.  With the Netscape browser, a closed padlock is shown in the bottom left hand corner of your screen when you are on a secure site.  If it is unlocked, it is not secure. Be aware that the American Rose Society website does not have secure ordering for it’s bookstore and gift shop, do not give them your credit card number on-line, call instead.

            Firewalls can be somewhat difficult to configure properly.  After installing it, you may want to accept the default settings at first, so that you have basic protection.  Read your documentation and decide if there are any additional options you’d like to change. I have only tried the Norton firewall, I understand the McAfee is easier to configure.  An added bonus with some firewalls is the ability to block those annoying pop-up and banner advertisements that are so prevalent on the internet. 

            In the next issue I’ll describe in detail how to make and use a simple rose database using just Microsoft Word.  For now, here’s a few useful links you might want to try.  (All are on our www.rirs.org link page).

Rosemania, useful tools and chemicals for rose culture and propagation, is at http://rosemania.com

Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, shows plans and has links to all non-profit partners at http://www.rwpbotanicalcenter.org

Baldo Villega’s Rose Pest Page, photos of rose diseases  and insects at http://www.jps.net/rosebug/irosepests.html

 

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