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Source: The Chronicle Herald

Posted on June 12, 2006

      The so-called "information highway" has widened significantly over the years with faster connections, computers and software. However, our progress has continuously been impeded by increasingly sophisticated security "potholes."

      The biggest security threats to business are, of course, theft or sabotage of customer data. However there are myriad other threats to corporate IT security and productivity, including spyware, malware, spam, worms, phishing and Trojan horses, to name just a few.

      It is well known inside the corporate community that most security breaches go unreported and only a few of the high-profile incidents make the press. For companies, the only thing worse than having a security problem, is having one and not being aware of it.

      Unlike the physical security of your business, breaches of your network, computers and data security systems can easily go unnoticed. Having a computer network security breach being brought to your attention by someone outside of your company is not a good thing.

      The costs to implement, maintain and upgrade security infrastructure are significant in terms of money and time, especially in smaller enterprises that don't have the scale necessary to minimize the per-employee cost of security. A lot of small enterprises are overwhelmed by the general demands of maintaining IT infrastructure, even without the security issues.

      Many of the least threatening security problems, such as "adware" and "malware" (programs that usually hijack your browser) are the ones that cause the most lost productivity and frustration for employees.

      If one of your employee's computers becomes "infected" with adware or malware, they can easily be without their computer for hours while it is cleaned. Not only is their productivity lost, but there is the cost of the IT resources to fix it.

      Assuming your local network is connected to the Internet and you provide your employees with open access, then the security protections you employ need to be broad. While the best security is a wise user, it is not realistic to expect every employee to be aware of all threats or adhere perfectly to your IT use policies.

      Further, many malicious programs, sites and services do their damage unbeknownst to the user.

      To protect your technology assets and productivity, there are some basic things you can do to help ward off problems. First, if your computers are running Windows, make sure you regularly check for Windows updates or set Windows to automatically check. Many security threats target weaknesses in the Windows operating system or the browser so Microsoft regularly releases security patches that address specific new problems.

      I have personally been the "doctor" on many infected PCs and have seen the mess that PCs can get into when the Windows operating system is not kept up to date.

      While regularly updating Windows won't completely protect your PC, it will definitely help fend off a meaningful number of issues.

      If your company is small and you don't have your own corporate network, then you will likely need to employ additional security protections at the PC level. If you have a corporate network and an IT management staff, there are a host of protections that can be employed at the core of the network within routers, firewalls, mail servers, policy management systems.

      At the PC level, to protect from spyware, malware and adware, worms and the like there are a host of programs from the major security software manufacturers. These include the Internet Security Suite from McAfee, Norton Internet Security from Symantec and a new program from Microsoft called Windows Defender. These are just three of the more popular programs from the bigger companies.

      All of these programs are designed to prevent problems but not necessarily cure them if your computer(s) are already infected. There are literally hundreds of programs and tools for the prevention and cure of security problems.

      In terms of cost, most programs offer a free trial and some are completely free. However, the complete security suite programs are typically $50 to $100. Microsoft Windows Defender is currently free as it is in Beta.

      Given the time-consuming and painful experience that usually results from an infection, it is well worth making a small investment in protection.

      Another key security mechanism is a firewall. The primary function of a firewall is to keep problems from getting into your PCs or servers. There are many different types of firewalls that can be deployed.

      Most modern home networking routers from Linksys, SMC and D-Link have firewall features that can be used to prevent certain types of Internet traffic from entering your network. For example, most routers can be configured to allow only regular web traffic to enter your network, while traffic from applications such as instant messaging can be blocked.

      As an alternative, if you are running an updated version of Windows XP, you can activate the Windows Firewall function to restrict certain types of traffic at the individual PC. Keep in mind that activating Windows Firewall only protects that one machine, so if you want all of your PC's protected, you'll need to activate it on all machines or use the router method described above.

      From what I have seen, there is no perfect security solution. The drawback of enhanced protection is usually restricted freedom; however, the benefits usually outweigh the costs.

      Finally, when it comes to PC and network security, the old saying of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" definitely applies.

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