The computer helper: Are you being hacked?
By Jay Dougherty Jan 20, 2006, 18:19 GMT
Washington - Nervous about getting hacked? No one could blame you if you are. After all, news about computer hackers - those malicious geeks intent on getting at your personal information - is everywhere. But the actual threat posed by hackers may be lower than you think. Read on for answers to some common questions about potential hacking threats.
Q: I'm now connected to the Internet full-time through a DSL modem. When I'm online, I notice that the lights on the modem blink even when I'm not accessing a website or sending e-mail. Could this mean that someone is hacking into my computer?
A: Seeing the lights on your modem blinking wildly even when you're not downloading a file or accessing a website can be disconcerting. But usually, there is no cause for alarm.
Behind the scenes, data is frequently transmitted back and forth between your Web host and your computer - as well as between your computer and any Web services you may have signed up for.
For example, if you have an antivirus program installed and have activated automatic updates, that program may be downloading those updates from the Internet. Or Microsoft Windows' automatic update feature may be downloading the latest patch.
Of course, the activity could signal trouble. Advertisers who deposit adware or spyware on your computer without your knowledge may be receiving information about your surfing habits. The only way to gain peace of mind, however, is to use an antivirus software and to make sure that you periodically check for the presence of adware or spyware. Download Ad-Aware (http://www.adaware.com), and make sure your antivirus product is up-to-date.
If you've already taken the necessary precautions, though, don't spend too much time worrying about modem light activity.
Q: I have just recently started using a firewall and was alarmed to see the firewall tell me that hundreds of attempts are being made each day to access my PC. How is this possible?
A: It's possible because firewall software also often reacts to any activity that in any way resembles a possible attempt to infiltrate your computer. It's akin to an automobile alarm sounding whenever someone walks past a car in a car park. Unfortunately, there's a lot of Internet traffic that is completely normal but looks suspicious to a firewall. That's why if you check the log of a typical firewall program, you'll see lots of entries signalling thwarted attempts to access your computer.
The fact is that many people are overdoing it with firewalls these days. There are firewalls built into most cable and DSL modems today. Make sure yours is activated, and you can forego software-based firewalls altogether. A firewall combined with antivirus software is all that you should need to keep your PC secure from outside intruders. After all, the more software you have running in the background, the slower your machine will operate.
Don't overreact to virus and hacker hysteria. Although the threats are real, remember that a lot of companies are making a lot of money by repeatedly reminding you of security threats from hacking that most people never experience.
--- Have a computer question? Send it to the Computer Helper at firstname.lastname@example.org.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur