New Computer? Steps to Protect Your Computer Before Connecting to the Internet

Getting a new computer should be an exciting and gratifying experience. After all, you'll be able to do things faster, safer and without having to worry that your old hard drive is so full that one more file will "break the camel's back."

However, there are dangers out there that probably didn't exist when you bought your last computer. And there's the question of what will happen to your old hard drive, with all your personal data on it.

Let's deal with your new computer first. This information applies specifically to Windows XP, although it has broader application as well.

Remember:

  • Many computers' default configurations are insecure.
  • New security vulnerabilities may have been discovered between the time the computer was built and configured by the manufacturer and you setting up the computer for the first time.
  • When upgrading software from commercially packaged media (e.g., CD-ROM, DVD-ROM), new vulnerabilities may have been discovered since the disc was manufactured.
  • Attackers know the common broadband and dial-up IP address ranges, and scan them regularly.
  • Numerous worms are already circulating on the Internet continuously scanning for new computers to exploit.
  • It is estimated that 80% of spam comes from personal computers (known as "Zombies"), like yours, that have been compromised with a trojan or other malware that the owner is completely unaware of. By protecting your computer you are protecting the Internet!
As a result of these hackers' efforts, the average time-to-exploitation for an unprotected computer is measured in minutes.

Standard (wrong) advice to home users has been to download and install software patches as soon as possible after connecting a new computer to the Internet. However, since the background intruder scanning activity is pervasive, it may not be possible for you to complete the download and installation of software patches before the vulnerabilities they are trying to fix are exploited.

This Special Report offers advice on how to protect your computer before connecting it to the Internet so that you can complete the patching process without incident.

We strongly recommend following all the steps when upgrading to a new operating system from disc(s) as well as when connecting a new computer to the Internet for the first time.

  • Perform these steps before connecting to the Internet for the first time.
  • The links in this document are LIVE LINKS, but we recommend that you NOT connect to them through your new computer. Use the live links on a computer that is fully updated, virus protected and firewalled, and download the instructions/programs to a CD or a USB drive, then transfer them to your new computer. A 128 megabyte USB drive costs less than $20, is "plug and play," and can be used over and over.
  • If possible, connect the new computer behind a network (hardware-based) firewall or firewall router.

    A network firewall or firewall router is a hardware device that is installed between the computers on their Local Area Network (LAN) and their broadband device (cable/DSL modem). By blocking inbound access to the computers on the LAN from the Internet a hardware-based firewall can often provide sufficient protection for you to complete the downloading and installation of necessary software patches. A hardware-based firewall provides a high degree of protection for new computers being brought online.

    If you connect to the Internet before you install a firewall, it may be possible for the computer to be exploited before the download and installation of such software is complete.

    XP has a built in firewall that may or may not be enabled. If Microsoft XP has not had Service Pack 2 installed, follow these instructions to turn on the Internet Connection Firewall. If XP is installed WITH Service Pack 2, then your firewall is enabled by default.

    Microsoft has provided both detailed and summarized instructions for enabling the built-in Internet Connection Firewall on Windows XP.

    We strongly recommend that you install a third-party firewall application and THEN turn off the Windows firewall.

    We recommend ZoneAlarm (www.ZoneLabs.com), which is FREE. Zone Alarm is the top rated firewall, and protects both incoming and outgoing data. XP's firewall ONLY protects against incoming data. Zone Alarm's setup file is approximately 7 megabytes, which will easily fit on a CD or USB drive.

  • Disable File and Printsharing if enabled.
  • Go to Start -> Control Panel.
  • Open "Network and Internet Connections".
  • Open "Network Connections".
  • Right-click on the network connection you wish to change (e.g., "Local Area Connection").
  • Select "Properties".
  • Make sure "File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networking" is unchecked.

  • Connect to the Internet.

  • Go to windowsupdate.microsoft.com.

    Follow the instructions there to install all Critical Updates. However, if you are going to install Service Pack 2, READ THIS FIRST! Pay particular attention to "Get the latest PC manufacturer updates for SP2, because you may need to update drivers for your PC to work properly.

    Only download software patches from known, trusted sites (i.e., the software vendors' own sites), in order to minimize the possibility of an intruder gaining access through the use of Trojan horse software.

    Staying Secure

    Follow the principle of least privilege - don't enable it if you don't need it.

    Consider using an account with only 'user' privileges instead of an 'administrator' or 'root' level account for everyday tasks. You only need to use administrator level access when installing new software, changing system configurations, and the like. Many vulnerability exploits (e.g., viruses, Trojan horses) are executed with the privileges of the user that runs them - making it far more risky to be logged in as an administrator all the time.

    Moving Your Applications and Data

    Unless you've never had a computer before, you'll want to move your old data onto your new machine. There are several ways to do this quickly and easily (although there are often a few glitches). The best article on the subject is www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,115632,00.asp.

    Protecting Your OLD Data

    So, what do you do with your OLD computer? Perhaps someone else can use it, maybe a school or a retirement center?

    One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that deleting files using Windows Explorer actually deletes the files! It DOESN'T!

    When you delete files in Windows, all it does is delete the pointers that show where the files are. Any competent computer whiz can easily find a program on the Internet that will rebuild the file pointers, and then they have access to all your files- your emails, your business information and your financial information.

    You can go to any flea market in the country, and chances are you can purchase a used hard drive with the old owner's data still on it! Many professional identity thieves are doing just that!!!!

    What CAN you do?

    Personally, I remove the hard drive from the computer, and I keep it (not in a place that it would be found if a burglar came into my house).

    Another alternative is to use a free disk wiping utility or purchase one.

    To effectively remove data from a hard drive, it must be overwritten completely several times. All of the temporary files, all of the caches, all of the "swap files" that are created as you work may be lurking in some unknown corner of the hard drive.

    Contrary to popular belief, even reformatting the drive does not necessarily make file recovery impossible!

    Consider this ? A recent search of hard drives that had been discarded revealed:


  • Choosing a Portable MP3 Player: Part 1

    MP3 players are everywhere! It seems that the number of... Read More

    Internet Explorer Shortcuts for Mouse-o-phobes

    If you're like me, you occasionally find the ubiquitous mouse... Read More

    Computer Geeks and Garden Gnomes

    First and foremost before I begin my ranting it is... Read More

    How Does My PC Get Hot

    There are many sources of heat that can raise the... Read More

    Selecting a Personal Digital Assistant

    A Computer in Your HandCarrying around an address book and... Read More

    How To Speed Up Your Aging PC And Make It Healthier Too

    With a little tweaking and with proper tools, you can... Read More

    Virtual Memory - What is It?

    I recently got an e-mail asking about virtual memory. The... Read More

    Help, I Need a New HDTV! (Part 4 of 5)

    Feeling overwhelmed in selecting a new TV? With all the... Read More

    The Newbies Guide to Personal Computer Maintenance

    When you turn on your computer, does it act like... Read More

    Cisco Certification: The Most Important Cisco Study Youll Ever Do

    All of us are familiar with the pyramids of Egypt.... Read More

    An All Too Familar Pain

    Lost & Found for the 21st CenturyIn today's hectic world... Read More

    Tips for Buying a PC

    Buying Your PCBuying a PC that's right for you and... Read More

    Flow Text Around a Graphic in Microsoft Word

    Flow Text Around a GraphicQuestion: I have inserted a photo... Read More

    Learning To Navigate Ciscos Online Documentation

    When studying for your Cisco CCNA, CCNP, or CCIE exam,... Read More

    Bluetooth Technology: Tips for Buying Headsets or Headphones

    The technological horizon has always got something new to offer,... Read More

    JVCs First Three-Layer Combo-Disc Blu-Ray / DVD

    JVC developed and used a high-performance reflective film to produce... Read More

    A Peek Into the Near Future of Electronics Technology

    How long do you think DVDs have around? 20 years?... Read More

    The Advantages of Portable MP3 Players

    With their solid-state technology, compact size, and abundant memory, portable... Read More

    Password Nightmares

    Good Morning Mr. Sampson. Please type in you Personal Identification... Read More

    Getting Started with HTML

    The basic language of the internet is html. If you... Read More

    Basic Computer Maintenance

    One of the most common questions computer users ask is,... Read More

    COOKIES - What Are They!!

    Cookies, not the kind that Mom makes, but the computer... Read More

    Review of Rio MP3 Players

    Below you will find some useful information and comments about... Read More

    How to Switch to Firefox and Why You should

    First things first, what is Firefox? Well, it's a browser.... Read More

    Cut Through the Hype and Make the Right Digital Camera Comparisons

    There are soooo many choices. With all the styles and... Read More