Web Informant #176, 15 November 1999:
It's hard work protecting your family's PCs


Some nights, I feel like I have a second job: running the tech support department of Chez Strom. It is always nice to know that I can get a "real" job when I need it, but honestly maintaining my home computers running Windows 98 isn't my idea of having fun with the family. It is almost enough to make me want to go back to using Macs at home. Ironically, one of my original reasons for buying a Mac circa 1992 was to not have to support my family running Windows 3.1. My how times have (not!) changed.

For the time being, I am stuck with Windows and most days I don't have to do much in the way of support. But twice in this past week we had virus warnings. While the "Bubbleboy" virus got lots of press (and I received at least six emails from various vendors who sell protection systems), the more nefarious virus was "Fun Love." Bubbleboy can infect your PC through an email attachment -- if you are running Outlook Express, you don't even have to open the message to catch this one, and will send out loads of spam to your entire address book. Fun Love can change your NT file permissions and open your shared directories to the world. You can read more about both, along with all the other viruses running amok out there, at both Network Associates' and Symantec's virus pages. I like the Network Associates page better because of the hoax information, but use Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus software on all of my computers.

Given these warnings, I set about to deal with updating my protection for them. It wasn't simple. Much of this comes under the heading of the more you know, the harder you have to work. If you are concerned about these viruses, you might want to follow these steps:

  1. Disable Windows Scripting Host, which is one way Bubbleboy and other scripting-style viruses get into your life. Go to Control Panel | Add/Remove Software | Windows Setup | Accessories | Details | and uncheck WSH. Then click Apply. Unless you are running Visual Basic scripts, you won't miss this piece of software and you are better off without it as more Bubbleboy-type viruses come around.
  2. Download "eyedog" scripting patch if you are using IE5. This plugs another hole in the scripting side of things.
  3. Change your Internet security options to prevent scripts from running. This will take some fooling around with the options, depending on which browser version you are running and whether you are totally paranoid and want to turn off cookies and scripts entirely or not.
  4. Update virus signature files using the auto update routines on the virus protection software on your machines. The Norton anti-virus software does this quite easily if your PC is connected to the Internet: all it takes is a few minutes to download the new files and update your protection software. The only trouble is that you have to manually initiate the update on each PC individually.
  5. While I was updating everything, I noticed that my file exports from Outlook weren't working properly. I needed to download the latest ODBC/MDAC drivers to fix this.
  6. While I was at it, I installed the Umax U-Gate 3000 hub/firewall at home to give me a little more extra protection too. This is an inexpensive product that has a built-in web server to configure its IP address, a DHCP server and NAT gateway so that no one on the outside can easily attack your own computers. It took about five minutes to setup, once I figured out the right parameters. And while I was updating things, I managed to update the firmware on the gizmo too, just to stay current.

All of this took about two hours running back and forth from one machine to the other. It is a shame that Windows has gotten so complicated, and such a popular target for virus authors to try to attack. But at least now I can sleep better knowing that my family's computers are protected. Maybe tomorrow night we'll have some time to go out for dinner and a movie.

Self-promotions dep't

Last week I was interviewed for an article in the local Long Island paper Newsday on my reactions to the latest developments in the Microsoft trial. While you can't see the picture of me at work, you can read my comments on their web.

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David Strom
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