Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Firewalls Offer PC Protection from Online Outlaws

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Firewalls Offer PC Protection from Online Outlaws

Article excerpt

On any given day, hackers try to breach my Internet-connected computers a half-dozen or more times, either trying to take control of my PCs with "trojan" or "zombie" programs or else looking for a server from which to launch such attacks against others.

I'm not alone.

If you have a full-time Internet connection, you're probably being probed continually as well. 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 mindset 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 generally hate what they regard as oppressive authority -- epitomized in their minds by Microsoft. Consequently, its highly visible products are attacked with a vengeance.

And third, with the growing popularity of cable and DSL modems, which unlike older modems keep computer users connected to the Internet as long as their computers are 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. You can make yourself crazy 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, isn't risk free, and any quest to create a risk-free PC, network, company or society is self-defeating. You can't stop all the bad stuff. But what you can do is reasonably minimize the risks.

Large organizations have long taken extensive security precautions, relying on experts. These days, individuals and smaller businesses and are having to bone up on security and take precautions themselves, often without hired help. …

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