Friday, August 18, 2000

George Mindling Column 8-18-2000


Internet Firewalls


One of the most famous stories about someone from the dark side molesting your computer while you are signed on the Internet is about the "redialer." The bad guys in question would send you an e-mail note asking you to "CLICK HERE" for whatever reason, just to pick off your Internet address (The IP address, everyone on the net has one). Once you clicked on their "message," they had you. They then sent a series of commands back to your PC, telling your modem to disconnect you from the Web, silence your modem's sound, then redial, without you knowing it, to a strange, exotic land.

Well, I don't know about exotic. but the land is called "Greed." The toll call was exorbitant and fraudulent. And it can be prevented. That is probably the crudest form of attack on your PC. Today's thieves are a lot more subtle than the original "redialers," They want more than an expensive telephone charge; they are after your account numbers and passwords. They want your data.

Several companies have recently announced Home Firewall Programs specifically to protect the home PC user. The Firewall actually acts like a screen between the Internet and your PC. McAfee and Norton have both acquired companies this year that specialize in firewall programs, just to address the consumer PC market. Corporate America has used firewalls, software which actually determines what commands or what data passes from or to your Internet-connected computer, for several years now.

The corporate firewalls are a combination of hardware and software that protect the companies PCs and mainframes from unauthorized access. Programs like "Phoenix," "Raptor," and "Sidewinder" are but a few of the commercial programs available for business use.
The site at: http://www.icsa.net/html/communities/firewalls/certification/vendors/index/shtml allows you to check what is commercially available, while home PC users should check
http://www.10wizard.com/go.shtml?sq=Firewall to see what is current. The home user site also lists prices.

Several Internet services. such as AOL and Compuserve, use "proxy servers." That means they have another system that actually interfaces the Internet, not the system you actually link to when you sign on. Attacks are rarer than through direct access, but not impossible. Another benefit of the proxy server is the instant access to your e-mail. It is already downloaded at the proxy server, and all you have to do is read it when you log on. In the commercial world, the firewalls are an impediment to the normal flow of business. Legitimate file transfer programs (FTPs) often get bogged down or canceled by the ever-watchful firewall programs. But there is no alternative to the security the firewall programs offer.

The average Internet user can not afford to have data stolen or erased. People keep their financial records on Quicken or Microsoft's Money programs, among others. Keeping out the bad guys and girls becomes a more serious issue every day.

George Mindling © 2000

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