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The Internet protection kit

Updated 8 August 2007

You need a both software and common sense to stay safe while on the Internet.

The Internet is a great resource, but while you surf the net your computer can collect all sorts of nasties. On the net there are viruses, spyware and all sorts of traps waiting for the unwary. If you are going to spend time on the net you need to be prepared.

Ditch Internet Explorer

One of the biggest problems for Windows users is the vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. A simple way of avoiding these problems is to simply not use it. We recommend Firefox as the alternative, it can be downloaded from the Mozilla homepage.

Restricted User profiles

The reason Windows users are far more prone to security problems than Mac users is that Windows users run as Administrators. This means the normal user can change anything on the system. On Apple Macs and other systems, normal users do not have these privilege.

We recommend that Windows users should surf the Net in Restricted User mode. This means no software can be installed and system files and settings can't be altered. Microsoft explain the different types of user on their website and we explain how to set them up here.

It's important to note that the restriction will affect some software, which is why Microsoft don't set this up as the default. One account should be setup as an administrator and password protected. That password should not be obvious to the other users.

You need a Firewall

The most basic protection for your computer is a firewall. A firewall stops the bad guys from seeing you on the net and allows you to give permission over what programs can connect to the Internet. Windows XP has a basic built in firewall, but third party products like Sygate Personal Firewall and Zone Alarm offer more protection.

If you have installed Windows XP Service Pack 2, you'll find the security centre and firewall much improved. The firewall is much easier to use than the earlier version and is turned on automatically. We still recommend installing Sygate and then disabling the Windows firewall.

Patch your System

All software has bugs. Most viruses and worms take advantages of those bugs. Keeping your operating system up to date helps protect you from the obvious holes. Both Microsoft and Apple have sites to help keep you up to date.

Anti virus

Viruses are the biggest scourge of computer user and even experienced users can be caught by them. There are a lot of programs on the market and most of them are effective as long as you keep them up to date. The free edition of AVG is a bit more basic than the full featured commercial products, but does a good job of basic protection.

Spyware remover

You don't have to be surfing to dubious sites or file swapping to have your computer clogged with spyware. Even respectable websites can add tracking cookies and data miners. We recommend using at least two spyware removers, which you should run every few weeks to keep your system clean.

The Windows Defender tool does a good job of keeping the nasties off. This is a free download but only works on Windows XP and 2000. If you are using other versions of Windows, then Spysweeper and Ewido are excellent tools.

Spybot looks for software that snoops on your web surfing while advertising software is the target of Adaware. Using the two together catches most of the unwanted rubbish that can clog up your browser. We recommend running them once a month. Like virus checkers, they need to be kept up to date.

Browser hijackers

A favourite trick of the advertisers is to install Browser Helper Objects. These add toolbars and features to web browsers. Some, like the Google, Norton Anti-Virus, Bigpond and Acrobat helpers are useful, while most are an annoyance. BHO Demon is the best tool for checking these, currently it is not being further developed, but it can still be downloaded from the bottom of the linked page.

Internet filtering

You can filter your Internet connections. The Net Alert website compares home filtering systems while businesses tend to use corporate firewall system like the Watchguard Firebox. These systems aren't infallible and take some setting up.


If you genuinely concerned about what the kids see on the computer, we'd recommend installing the family computers in high visibility places so usage can be supervised. In businesses, staff should be given an acceptable usage policy that clearly defines what they can and cannot access on the net.

If you suspect any inappropriate usage, you should talk the individual concerned as soon as you become aware of it.

Common sense

Common sense isn't infallible, but it's the best protection. Be careful about the sites you visit, don't agree to download software you don't understand. If you don't know what if means don't do it, before agreeing at least do a search on the net for information wheat you are being asked to download.

Do not open suspicious emails and avoid opening dubious attachments, even if the email seems to comes from someone you trust,

The net is full of shady places and characters, you need to take care when strolling its dark alleys. When you are on the net, use some caution, make sure your defences are up and avoid the more dubious websites.

By using common sense and some basic software you can keep out of most trouble. Happy surfing.

Originally posted 13 October, 2003



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