PC Protection

Article excerpt

Advice to help keep hackers out of your business customers' computers

On any given day hackers try to breach my Internet-connected computers a halt dozen or more times, looking either to take over programs on my PC or to launch electronic attacks against others.

I'm not alone. If your bank or its business customers have full-time Internet connections, they're probably being probed continually by hackers. The media has had its hands full lately reporting high-profile computer break-ins. You would think we were in the midst of an all-out info-war.

The fact is, hacking, or "cracking" according to the purists, has been around nearly as long as computers. "I cracked it because it was there" could well be a slogan describing the mind-set of a typical hacker, often a bright, bored young man with too much time on his hands and too few scruples about what to do with it.

Hacking, however, has become more of a problem lately, for several reasons. First, sophisticated hacking tools are more widely available.

Second, hackers as a rule hate what they regard as oppressive authority, which is epitomized in their minds by Microsoft, and Microsoft's increasingly visible products are being attacked with a vengeance.

And third, with the growing popularity of cable and DSL modems, which unlike older modems keep you connected to the Internet as long as your computer is turned on, more people than ever are hacker targets.

What to do, besides pulling the plug and returning to typewriters and calculators?

First, as with computer viruses, hard disk crashes, and other potential disasters, keep things in perspective. While you may rest easy knowing that your bank's computer systems have great defenses, your bank's business customers could make themselves nuts worrying about all this. Forbes magazine recently reported that a NASA security expert became obsessed with stopping one group of hackers to the extent that it may have destroyed his marriage.

The truth is that computer use. as with the rest of life, as with any activity in life, isn't risk free. Any quest to create a riskfree PC, network, company or society is self-defeating. You can't stop all the bad stuff. But what your business customers can, and should do, is reasonably minimize the risks.

Community banks and other financial companies have long taken extensive security precautions, relying on experts when necessary. These days, smaller businesses and individuals are having to bone up on security and take precautions themselves, often without hired help. The solution here, for many, is a software program called a personal firewall. …