Keeping out Internet intruders

It’s great having an always-on, high speed Internet connection at home. My experience with Sympatico’s HSE service has been generally quite good. During the past three years, the service was down only infrequently and only for brief periods. Maybe we’re living in the right part of Toronto.

I now turn to the Internet as a natural source for everything from telephone numbers, to stock prices, to general information about products and services. The always-on feature is what I find most attractive. When my computer is on, my Internet connection is live. No waiting.

But what works for me also works for the outside world. My computer is now open to attack from the Internet whenever it’s turned on. And the probes come regularly. Several times a day, sites from around the world launch probes at my computer. Many of them may be innocent, but you can’t be sure.

I have had good experience with ZoneAlarm ( It’s free for use at home and does a good job blocking external probes and telling me when a new program, or a new version of an old program, on my machine wants to access the Internet.

It knows when I update programs, even if the location and name do not change. I have the option to block access to the Internet for any and all programs running on my machine. Even if a rogue program found its way onto my machine, ZoneAlarm would warn me before allowing it to access the Internet.

Personal firewalls are not perfect. If nothing else, you need to set the security levels correctly. Setting them too low allows hackers in; setting them too high blocks legitimate Internet access. ZoneAlarm has worked for me. The Home PC Firewall Guide ( provides more information on your options.

Security isn’t just a question of installing and configuring a firewall. I’ve configured Windows to always show me file extensions. I see when the file extension indicates that it is executable, e.g. read, Sexy Pictures.vbs, etc. I will only run an executable if the source is trusted.

There are other prudent steps the always-on Internet users should take. I’ve turned off file sharing on my computer at home. I have installed an anti-virus program. I find the free-for-personal-use InnoculateIT PE ( to be quite satisfactory. But it too needs to be properly installed and configured.

Prudence, and preference, also keep me away from Microsoft’s Outlook. Any program with Outlook’s market share will be a virus magnet. I have used Pegasus ( as my e-mail client for years. I like the program, and I like the fact that it doesn’t integrate with the rest of my computing environment.

Microsoft makes it easy to have integrated computing, where everything talks to everything else. That makes it easier for a virus to get beyond e-mail. Add in Microsoft’s large market share – hence attractiveness for virus writers – and I plan to stay far away from Outlook.

Closing Note: I’m back doing Tech Toys. My writing got derailed by a full-time administrative position with Seneca College. I’m still connected to Seneca, but now have more time to write…and to explore neat tech toys.

Bob Fabian is an established Canadian management and system consultant ( who has always been fascinated by technology.