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PC Rescue Newsletter December 2008
Christmas is here and we'd like to wish everybody a happy Christmas and an excellent new year.
Now the summer holidays are here, we've a number of suggestions of how to make sure you don't get any nasty surprises from your system when you get back from your holidays. One important thing to watch is the risk of viruses and exploits being released while you're away and this is one reason why we recommend you avoid using Internet Explorer as your main web browser.
Internet Explorer alternatives
There's been renewed calls not to use Internet Explorer thanks to a bug discovered earlier this month.This "Zero Day Exploit" allows bad guys to design websites that can steal passwords and other user information.
Internet Explorer is the web browser built into Windows. All web browser, and other software, can have security bugs, but because of the way IE is designed, it is particularly prone to these security problems.
To make hings worse Internet Explorer is a fundamental part of Windows so any problem with IE becomes a problem for your entire system. This is why we think it's a good idea to use an alternative to Internet Explorer. Some of the options include.
Mozilla FirefoxThe most popular alternative browser is Mozilla Firefox. You can download a free a copy from the Mozilla website.
OperaOne of the longest established alternative browsers, Opera tends to be the cutting edge browser, while it's not for everyone it's fast, stable and is also a free download.
Google ChromeA new alternative is Google's web browser. It's fast but it does do things a bit differently from the others. You can get this free from Google's website.
If you use a Mac then the Safari browser is included with your system. Windows users can download a free version from Apple.
All of these alternatives are perfectly good for general web browsing. It's best to try each and use the one you find works best for you. Unfortunately you can't completely get rid of Internet Explorer. Not only is it a integral part of Windows, but some web sites won't work properly on anything else, so reserve IE for those sites that require it and use an alternative for the rest of the web.
A ďzero day exploitĒ is where the details of a security bug have been made public before the manufacturer knew about it. This gives the malware writers a window of opportunity to cause mischief before anyone can plug the hole.
Starting up after the Christmas break
If you are going away or shutting down your office over the Christmas break then Zero Day Exploits are one of the things you need to be aware of. Before reading emails and surfing the web make sure you've updated your antivirus and installed any security patches.The bad guys donít take holidays and you can be certain there will be new exploits and viruses released over the break.When you do restart your machines, also remember the order you should start your equipment;
Generally if you do it in this order, everything should start up fine. If you don't have things like routers or servers on your system then just skip to the next point.
Shutting down for the holidays
To reduce nasty surprises when you return, there's a series of things you should do before leaving your computer to its own devices over the break.
Backup is the most basic and essential point. The data on your network is far more important than the computers themselves. For many homes and businesses that information is the most valuable asset on the system.
Before everyone leaves, run a full backup and verify it, that is make sure all your data has been backed up. Someone needs to take that backup home, give it to the neighbours or put it in safe storage.
Itís possible you may need to access important business files in a hurry. I like to copy critical documents and current projects, orders, etc. onto a DVD, CD or external drive. This drive should spend the holiday at a senior managerís or the proprietorís home where it can be accessed at short notice.
Your accounting program has a backup system. Run that backup program onto a disk and send a copy to your accountant.
Shutdown and unplug
Power surges are a big threat to computers and networks and in most of the country Christmas is a time when storms and bushfires are common. While the office is closed, unplug all equipment that doesnít need to be on. This includes monitors, routers and hubs.
Disconnect equipment from power, network and phone sockets. You can safely assume printers, scanners and most peripherals are safe to shut down.
If you are a business that runs a server or handles its own email, then you shouldnít touch any of the servers, routers or switches without express permission from your IT people.
The most damaging power surges come through the phone lines. So if you donít need Internet access while away from the office, unplug the Internet modem from the phone line.
If you do need access, then speak to your tech people or electrician about surge protecting the line. Surge Protection For that equipment that needs to be on, surge protection is a good idea.
These devices will stop power surges from blowing up sensitive electrical equipment. Your electrician can install equipment that will protect the entire office and you can buy protected power strips for under $100 or the better Uninterruptible Power Supplies for $150 upwards.
So unplug as much as possible and make sure your data is safely stored.
Phishing scams increase
The last few weeks have seen a steady rise in dodgy emails arriving. Two recent spates claim to be "Account Verification information" messages from the Commonwealth Bank and Optus. If you click on the supplied link, you'll be taken to a very good imitation of the Optus and CBA sites where you'll be asked to put in your username and email details.
While most of the scams are fairly obvious to spot, there's no doubt the theives are getting better at disguising themselves. If you get any emails that try to get you to log on to a bank or other secure website, be suspicious.
As the economy tightens we'll be seeing a lot of more of these scams appearing. Most likely many will go along the lines of "get rich quick" to prey on people in financial difficulties. Treat them with care and warn your friends and loved ones about these tricks.
Computer vendors are making it clear they will be prices will be going up substantially in the new year. Sony, for instance, will be increasing prices between 25 and 35%.
The message is clear, if you are looking at buying any electronic equipment, do it over Christmas.
The issue that's focussing the minds of the IT industry at the moment is the proposal to force all Internet access to go through a government approved filter.
After a trial in Tasmania, the government is now looking at trialling it nationally. Optus and iiNet have agreed to take part in the trial.
This proposal is by far the most controversial issue in the Australian IT industry for years. The amount of venom on both sides has phenomenal with the minister, Senator Conroy, accusing opponents of the proposal as supporting child pornography recently.
The pros and cons of Internet filtering are quite substantial and we'll be looking at the issue on tonight's ABC Nightlife spot. If you can't tune in, we'll be summarising the issues on the web site in the next few days.
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©Technology Publishing Australia, 2008