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Old 13th July 2006, 08:08 AM   #1
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Default Small Office Internet Security

I've written recently (on my blog) about the need for disaster recovery programs for small business computers, it's a topic near and dear to my heart. A recent story highlights the importance of network security as well. In recent days I've battled a little annoyance of a Trojan Virus that made ads pop up in my browser. It took more than a week and several programs to finally find the little bugger but I found it. (I'll write on that at another time.)

The process made me wonder how I got the virus in the first place, and worse, what else is crawling around my network? When I opened my new office, I opted for cable broadband and I was advised by a friend to install a software firewall on top of Windows firewall while I waited for my new router/hardware firewall. I installed it and was amazed when I looked at the logs and saw all those attempt to access my computer.

Without going techno on you, I'll try to explain simply. Small business broadband (DSL or Cable are the most common) creates a path onto the internet. Like any other network cable, when you plug in that DSL or cable modem, you are plugging into millions of other computers. Most of the time you only see those computers (websites) that you want to see, but behind the scenes people are scouring the internet looking for your 'address'. It's referred to as an "IP" address, a set of four numbers that is all yours. There are people out there who run through those numbers looking for computers that are not protected and once found, depending on their intent, they seek other vulnerabilities. Looking at your files, passwords or worse, installing little programs that collect your keystrokes, monitor your browsing habits, or listen to your conversations.

Yeah, it's a scary place out here on the internet. For most small business people it's a place that we go to communicate, research, network and resource all the while people are trying to get in our back doors, front doors, IP's, ports or sockets. We lock the door on our office when we leave, put our money in the bank, protect ourselves in many ways, but are we protecting ourselves from being hacked, cracked and violated on our PC?

If your business uses common software for accounting like QuickBooks or Microsoft Money, then those people looking around know exactly where the default file locations of your most sensitive data are. Don't you think it's a good idea to take an extra step or two to protect that data?

Back to the story, the State Department detected an intrusion in their network and shut it down. Sure, they have plenty of money and staff to make such discoveries but then they also have information that it much more sensitive than the password to your yahoo email. The point is, they had a system that monitored the network and shut it down when something strange was going on.
Agency Recovers From Computer Break-Ins
Jul 11, 11:22 PM (ET)

WASHINGTON (AP) - The State Department is recovering from large-scale computer break-ins worldwide over the past several weeks that appeared to target its headquarters and offices dealing with China and North Korea, The Associated Press has learned.

Investigators believe hackers stole sensitive U.S. information and passwords and implanted backdoors in unclassified government computers to allow them to return at will, said U.S. officials familiar with the hacking. These people spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the widespread intrusions and the resulting investigation.

"This case is a textbook example of our ability to detect and defeat threats before they can do any damage," Beck said.

The break-ins and the State Department's emergency response severely limited Internet access at many locations, including some headquarters offices in Washington, these officials said. Internet connections have been restored across nearly all the department since the break-ins were recognized in mid-June.


So what's a small business person to do? With everything else you have to worry about, spending your day watching your incoming and outgoing bits and bytes is not an option. If you are somewhat computer savvy, then perhaps you can install some basics.

A firewall - Hardware is best but Software will do. Just Google Firewall for plenty of options. I'll post what I use in the coming days.

Anti-Virus Software - It's common knowledge that you should have this, but more people than I care to admit don't have updated versions or worse, updated definition files. (These are the algorithms to search and destroy used by the software... they change daily.) It's important to continually update your software and check for updates. I check every morning.

Anti-Spyware software - This is software protects you from a number of hazards the least of which isn't protecting your personal information. There are a number of theories as to what is and what is not spyware, but to me, anything that is tracking me is spyware. Some can be very dangerous.

If, you don't know what I'm talking about then you should seek the advice and counsel of a qualified business computer consultant. (Not me.) Someone you can hire to audit your system and make recommendations. You likely hire lawyers, accountants or doctors when you need them, well if your small business depends on your computer and the protection of the data, then you need some advise. Write me and I'll send you who I recommend.

Until then, make sure your Windows (or other) main software is up to date. Look for "check for updates." If you are using the latest version of Windows (XP) then there is plenty of assistance available in the software including a firewall and "Windows Defender." Back everything up twice. I say this because CD's go bad and also, if you back up your data and your office burns down... then you have no data still huh? Oh, that reminds me, keep it in a safe place.

Now this is where people accuse me of being a little over protective. I've been ridiculed, laughed at and made fun of because some of this but you know what, I don't care. I do these things for my own peace.

1) Password protect your computer!!! Set the screen saver to password too. It's important. If someone steals your computer and it's not password protected then, well you're exposed. Even if it was neighborhood hoodlums who steal it, if the information, private email, pictures, website, phone books were shared with people in the community or even posted online, it could cause some headaches.
  • Important: Set your user account (on your computer) to no sharing. This is important because if you password protect your login but not your "my documents" folder, chances are you are wide open to intrusion. If someone were to steal your PC, they could simply set up a new login and access your data that way.
2) Password protect your sensitive files/folders. More pointedly, your QuickBooks or other accounting software files and backups. These are what intruders, whether virtual or real time will be looking for. Passwords are a great deterrent.
  • FYI; I do NOT password protect every single file on my computer. I do password my QuickBooks company account as well as some spreadsheets. When I upgrade my computer in the next few weeks, I will be creating a folder that will be protected by password and encryption. Simply put, protect that information that you don't want shared with your competitors or information that would hurt your customers if it were lost (credit card and other private info.)
3) Turn off your computer at night. Now this carries with it some baggage. If you turn your computer off, then it can't run some scheduled tasks at night while you're at home and I admit it's convenient for MS to take care of the trash while I'm not using the computer. But, left on at night, your computer is subject to a number of things including getting locked up in an endless loop, overheating your hard drive or, yes, intrusion by people inside your network as well as outside if you don't do number four. I have scheduled maintenance software to run on one day a week and leave my computer on that night.

4) Turn off your broadband modem at night! Some routers allow you to set them to close the connection at night but nothing makes me feel better than seeing that little light turned off. I've even gone so far as unplugging the cable at night most nights. If you're a small (micro) business and yours is the only computer on the "network" then this will provide that extra assurance that nothing's going on in the background and no one is snooping around. ALSO, depending on your network, it may refresh your IP address to a different one each time you restart the modem. I think this is an added plus for tracking as well as targeted attacks.

I cannot stress the importance of network security enough. If not for yourself, at least do it for your customers who may not want their personal information, purchase history, credit card numbers or email addresses being used by less honorable people than yourself. It is one thing to neglect your own privacy, it's much worse than negligent when you do it for someone else.

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David Francis | Bowling Green KY USA | SoKy Local Business
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Old 13th July 2006, 08:15 AM   #2
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Editorial note about my post. I wrote Robert and asked if I should post an excerpt and link off to my blog. He wrote and suggested that I post the entire article here so people doing have to click off. Frankly, I agree with that idea (even if I did have to reformat in BBS style and trim it to fit the 1000 character limit).

This is a great website and community. I'm glad to offer what I can to help it grow. I hope it was "cool" to make the Digg link back to my blog instead of this posting though... I think it keeps with the rule to offer good content.

Anyway... I'll duplicate post here once in a while with a note that it is blog post. I think more of us who blog should do that as well... maybe Robert or the other editors could do the same, visit some of our websites/blogs and bring in recommended articles to share. Just a thought.

Anywho... keep on keepin on and may all your dreams come true.

David Francis | Bowling Green KY USA | SoKy Local Business
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Old 13th July 2006, 08:47 AM   #3
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Excellent article.

I'm happy (and relieved!) to say that I am pretty much on par with almost all your recommendations. And with all the fabulous and affordable software out there today, there is really no excuse to be running a computer without this kind of protection.

Like you, I always turn my computer off at night, although perhaps for a different reason which may not be entirely valid but it makes me sleep better: we're in the middle of a fairly vicious thunderstorm season here in southern Alberta (Canada) and I have this huge fear of some kind of electrical surge or outage completely frying my system in the middle of the night! I have one of those surge protector power bars but hey, I'm not one for blind faith.

The other thing I do that you might want to elaborate on in your article (yes, always an editor), is to back up your files both on an external hard drive AND to another location using a service like iBackup. If your home or office was to be destroyed or vandalized, you need to know your files are safely stored somewhere far far away! I like to do the offsite backup about once a week if possible. Onsite backups should be run every single night. Maxtor One-Touch has a nice suite of external drives that work great for this purpose.

Anyway, well done on the article Dave! Very important information for all small business entrepreneurs!!


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Old 13th July 2006, 09:15 AM   #4
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Thanks Karri,

You're right (as usual) and believe it or not... this was the trimmed down edited version. I tend to ramble. (ya think?) There are some great online backup hubs but my 'paranoia' prevents me from truly trusting them. Yes, the data is supposed to be encrypted and protected but I guess I received too much security training in the Air Force.

Yes!!! Turning off your computer does help with brownouts, blackouts, and minor spikes. But in keeping with obsessive compulsive protection, the only way to prevent lightning (direct and indirect) is to completely unplug everything from the back of your computer. Yeah, I know... I don't either. When my office was at home, (very rural country subject to frequently lightning) I would in fact unplug my computer during the storms.

In my new office, I purchased a small "UPS" system that has a battery pack. In case of short outages, nothing happens. It comes with an insurance rider so I registered it and all items connected to it. (My phone, router, computer, monitor etc)

I used to be a manufacturers rep selling high tech equipment to farmers and I've covered the bases on power surge protection. The bottom line is, if lightning is going to get your equipment, it will. Nothing will protect your equipment from a direct hit! But proper grounding, power protection and common sense will protect you from those nasty little spikes that are associated with lightning.

Still on the power protection, I wrote another article on my blog titled "Computer is toast now what?" It kind of covers what you suggest and leads into a series I'm planning for disaster preparedness for SoHo. http://www.soky.biz/2006/07/computer...t-now-what.asp

David Francis | Bowling Green KY USA | SoKy Local Business

Last edited by SoKyBiz; 13th July 2006 at 09:27 AM. Reason: My grammar and seplling suck
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