Prevent home attacks with full protection

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2007, 12:00am

Traditional internet threats remain a serious concern for home users, who should cover all their bases to avoid the latest assaults

The computer is now a commonplace household item, but its systems and data are prone to attack. So how can computers and users - young and old - be safeguarded?

'Although the current threat environment is characterised by an increase in data theft, data leakage and the creation of malicious code that targets specific organisations for information that can be used for financial gain, traditional threats also remain a serious concern for home users,' said Michael Chue, managing director of Symantec Hong Kong.

'As newer threats such as phishing and identity theft dominate internet security conversations, it is easy to become lax about virus protection,' he said.

'However, viruses, worms and Trojan horses haven't gone away. Of the top 10 new malicious code families detected in the last six months of 2006, five were Trojans, four were worms and one was a virus.'

Installing a good anti-virus solution was therefore vital, Mr Chue said. But other steps needed to be taken. Use a personal firewall that has intrusion detection capabilities; keep your security programs, operating system and browsers up to date; and upgrade to the best new security software when it becomes available.

There are many excellent programs that can be purchased. Symantec has unveiled its latest computer security pack, Norton 360, billed as an all-in-one service with PC Security, Transaction Security, Backup and PC Tuneup. It is suitable for small businesses as well as a family system, as the package allows for three household PCs. Protection includes anti-phishing, and the transaction security safeguards against online identity theft. It costs HK$629 plus the annual service charge.

There is also a wide selection of components that can guard a computer system available as free downloads from the web. AVG, from Grisoft, is a freeware offering with a paid-for professional version. AVG installs easily after a download and receives automatic updates, so the user is fully protected from the newest virus threats.

Alternative web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera are immune to most known browser hijack programs, and come with built-in pop-up blockers and other useful features.

Besides making sure a Windows installation has the latest updates (if it is XP service pack 2), it is recommended that the security features are configured for Internet Explorer by visiting the appropriate Microsoft site (


Many attractive programs offered over the internet arrive accompanied by spyware that slows system operations, breeds pop-up ads or even worse. Peer-to-peer (P2P) programs such as Kazaa and all of its cousins have been known for alleged viruses.

Yet, these sites do offer all kinds of 'stuff' otherwise difficult to get, so there is value in seeking out a favourite site, while having the checks in place for safe computing.

Even if the P2P software used is clean, a percentage of the files served on P2P networks is sure to be infected. The usual precautions apply such as not opening files without knowing what they are. Limewire and RockITNet were deemed most safe at the time of writing.

Many disreputable sites will attempt to install malware (malicious software) on a system through 'drive-by' exploits, simply by anyone visiting the site. Free software sites (especially ones that target teens), cracked software sites and pornography sites are among the worst offenders. So, the safe way is to avoid questionable websites.

Most drive-by attempts will be thwarted if Windows is kept updated and the browser is secured with its built-in features that allow varying degrees of security. Don't click on the OK box of a pop-up ad unless it is signed by a known firm.

A popular free firewall program is ZoneAlarm. Other cleaning and protective software that is popularly used and thus has a good reputation is Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, a scanning program, and Spybot Search & Destroy.

The latter has an 'immunise' feature that works roughly the same way as Javacool's SpywareBlaster, another popular and free download.

Mr Chue of Symantec agreed with the general consensus that the firewall that came with Windows XP was not enough, and needed to be supplemented or replaced.

'The short answer to this question is, yes, additional measures are definitely needed. An astonishing statistic to emerge from the recent Symantec Internet Security Threat Report was that home users, or the everyday internet user, made up the most highly targeted sector, accounting for 93 per cent of all targeted attacks,' he said.