Friday, March 11, 2005

You're not paranoid if THEY are really out to get YOU!

With the advent of the digital age, and the resulting dissemination of information via the Internet - identity theft, intellectual property theft, and just plain old snooping for gossipable material has reached new heights.

If you are engaged in any, and I mean ANY kind of business, or potentially embarrassing private activities on a computer attached to the Internet via a high speed connection, one of the primary concerns that you should have is security. Back in the day, when I was just a young packet punk vainly attempting to be Matthew Broderick in "War Games" with my 2400 baud modem, when the net was new, Internet stocks were rising faster than the cost of gas, when all those socially disenfranchised nerdly young men were making mad cash in the back rooms and basements of legitimate businesses by making them e-commerce enabled, things were relatively safe... But not any more. The dot-com bust, combined with the readily available training in application programming and network connectivity, cast out into the cold hard world thousands of people with the knowledge and skills to create and control vast networks containing massive amounts of information. With huge student debts and job prospects little higher then flipping burgers or, if they had a conservative image, being a data entry clerk. Not surprisingly these people have found ways to put their skills to work for themselves - by becoming information-superhighwaymen...

O.K. I'll admit that sounds kind of extreme, but there are those out there that do use their "l33t sk1llz" for nefarious ends, and as someone that uses a public network you have to take some of the responsibility for keeping yourself safe.

The first step that you need to take is purchase and install anti virus software. Trend Microsystems and Symantec both offer anti virus packages for all scales of need from single user to Enterprise solutions. If you cannot afford it, using one of the free services on a regular basis works pretty well too. I recommend the Trend Microsystems Housecall, just go to click the "Free Online Scan" link and follow the instructions - really easy to use, and very effective. This one preventative measure will go a long way to help ensure that you are not hosting any malicious little programs that will constantly pop up windows showing you how to order Viagra, or 'organ' improvement pills, send out emails from the Economic Minister of Botswana from your email address, or copy every single Excel document on your computer in hopes of getting hold of your account, client, or golf score records.

The next step you can take is to get a firewall. A firewall, either software or hardware, does for your computer pretty much what an actual firewall does for you - it keeps dangerous things out. It forces connections to and from the network behind the firewall to be authenticated according to sets of predetermined rules - rules that will prevent unauthorized access form outside systems, the usage of applications that may leak data out of the network, or little (or big) Johnny from going to see pictures that are naughty. firewalls come in a number of types, some are entirely software, such as Zone Labs "ZoneAlarm" (, and some are hardware, such as products from D-Link or Linksys. A personal software firewall should suffice for a single system in the home - but I highly recommend a dedicated hardware solution for any commercial enterprise.

Not to knock Microsoft, they've done a lot of great work in the area of web browsers - Internet Explorer is ubiquitously available almost everywhere, but that has its downside as well - every hacker, cracker, and script-kiddie on the planet has been chipping away at it for oh... 10 years now. As a result of this, using IE to surf the web leaves you open to browser hijacks, popups, popunders, popovers, blah blah blah - you get the idea. I got so sick of this that I pretty much abandoned the web for a while myself until the Mozilla Firefox ( browser came out. An open source coder friend of mine suggested that I try it, and OH BOY IS IT GOOD! The great thing about being able to endorse this wonderful browser is the fact that is is FREE! It was created by open source programmers from scratch, checked, tested, and double checked by way more people that are involved in the IE design; and it has none of the security holes that IE has - I can spend an entire weekend surfing the web without a single popup or browser hijack. Additionally, the community that has grown around it are creating wonderful little extensions that make surfing a dream - tabbed browsing allows you to have multiple pages open in a single browser window, session saver remembers what pages you had open when you last shut down - so if you use the same pages everyday you can have them all load up with a single click! Adblocker will actually block ads ON web pages from displaying - particularly those irritating animated ones that take so much time to load. Check it out, you won't regret it.

For those of you that like to use Instant Messaging programs like MSN Messenger, ICQ, or AIM, I also have a security recommendation for you. Tired of having *YOUR* MSN messenger conversations monitored? Get SimpLite ( Once you get it, get all your friends to install it too. It encrypts messages nicely between two people who are *both* using Simplite. If you don't believe me here is the easiest to use monitoring tool that I've been able to find: MSN Sniffer ( With this, anyone with a little network savvy can monitor your chatting from a nearby computer. It can be *installed* and run with a few clicks.

Safe surfing everyone.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fallout 2 War journal 3/6/5 2:00PM

Dammit! My hard drive ran out of space because I installed the max size for the game. Had to blow it off, and now I gotta restart it yet again! But on the upside - I had the idea of trying to do a sprite comic using grabs from the next time I play. now I just gotta come up with alternate characterizations, dialog...