SHCC WYSIWYG Article from June 2000

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This article was written by Rick Schummer, the club secretary, as an entry in "From the Secretary's Notebook".  This article appeared in the June 2000 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Home Computer Firewalls

by Rick Schummer

You have reached this web page so it is very likely that you are surfing the web <g>.  If you are using someone else's computer then there is no need to place fear in your heart for what you are about to read.  If you are not using a protective firewall, you could be exposing your computer to a "hacker".  If you are lucky, this person could be friendly.  If not, this person might be out to get data or destroy files on your computer.

Anyone who knows me well understands that I hate hype!  So please do not take this lightly.  I did not know there was a problem with PC/Internet security until recently.  I had always heard that we did not need to worry about people trying to gain access to our computers unless our computers were connected to the web with a high-speed, broadband connection (like Cable Modem or DSL).  This is not a true statement.  Dial-up is just as accessible.

So how does one find out what is freely available for access from the Internet?  There is a site called Gibson Research Corporation (www.grc.com), created by Steve Gibson (of SpinRite and "Trouble in Paradise" fame) that will check out your Internet exposure. This site has a program called Shield's UP and Port Probe.   This is a free check.  Go to this site and follow the easy instructions.  It is as simple as point and click.

 I did this recently while dialed-up to my ISP.  The results were a bit more than scary.  The site displayed my computer name, displayed all the shared resource (drives, workgroup, and printers) that I have set up for my home network.  It could not get at data since I have the drives password protected, but this does not mean I was safe from a hacker.  There are automated "hacking" tools that can break passwords faster than you can say "Holy Bits Batman".  All this was done with access to the NetBIOS port which is commonly used for peer-to-peer networking with Microsoft Windows Operating Systems.  Fortunately, the Port Probe found all ports closed except for the NetBIOS, but it could still see them, which is a bad thing.

The next step was to surf the web for a personal firewall.  Firewall software runs on your PC and monitors Internet traffic going out and coming in.  This software restricts traffic that is not authorized.  I have several friends that are running BlackIce Defender (http://www.networkice.com/html/blackice_defender.html) and several others running ZoneAlarm (www.zonealarm.com). There are several other packages in this category.  I selected ZoneAlarm because of the favorable reviews I have heard.  The other good news is that it is free for people using it for personal use (i.e., not to run a business).  Each time I run software that accesses the web ZoneAlarm asks me if it is okay (unless I granted permanent permission previously).  Each time an outside source is accessing my computer ZoneAlarm "bubbles" me a message and logs the intrusion.   The software was easy to use and does not appear to slow me down.

Is there a catch or drawback?  Yep.  If you are running a home network, the firewall will stop other PCs connected legitimately from using shared resources like drives and printers if you do not have the firewall configured for this situation.  Also, for every security implementation, there is another "hack" trying new methods of breaking in.

So what is the morale of this story?   Check out what your exposure is.  Some ISPs already protect you from outside attacks by running a version of a firewall at their site so you may be just fine.  This is very typical for ISPs that offer high-speed lines.  A friend of mine who has DSL through Ameritech had no problems reported by Gibson Research.  What is your web exposure?  Don't wake up in a sweat at night; find out what you can do to thwart an attack.

End of Article

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