Charles Arthur: The Geek

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The Independent Online

Once you've switched, you won't go back. You can easily get broadband for about £18 per month. It frees up your phone for voice calls, it's much faster than dial-up, and it's always connected - there's no tedious wait for the modem to warble its connection song, no rows with other members of the household waiting for that vital call.

However one aspect of broadband has been seriously overlooked - security. Putting a Windows computer straight out of the box on to a broadband connection is asking for trouble. A recent study by Sophos found that half of the PCs they connected this way - "unpatched and unprotected" - were infected within 12 minutes by an internet worm: perhaps one that would turn your PC into a spam generator, or watch keystrokes for password or credit-card-style input and send it to an outside e-mail.

If your PC runs Linux, you're a bit safer. If you have an Apple with OS X, you're much safer; there are no known viruses or remote Trojans for it.

According to Steve Linford, who runs Spamhaus.org, the number of "compromised" Windows PCs in the UK has risen directly with the number of broadband connections. "It's a very, very big problem. The UK is now one of the most compromised places in the world."

I have often highlighted the problem with the way broadband is marketed to home users, yet only AOL has put anything into advertising its security measures. It's a serious lapse which you, the user, have to make up.

So how can you protect yourself? Nathan Potter, operations director for the online security firm Information Risk Management, says you need defence in depth.

* First, ensure your operating system is up to date. Upgrade to Windows XP, and make sure you have XP Service Pack 2 installed (get it free from www.microsoft.com). This turns on the Windows firewall (an extra defence), checks that your antivirus software is up to date, and turns on Windows Automatic Update (www.microsoft.com/security/bulletins/automaticupdates.mspx). Note, though, that Automatic Update will sometimes forcibly restart your computer without telling you - so save your work if you leave it on overnight.

* If you don't have antivirus, Grisoft offers a free version (Google "Grisoft free antivirus"). Antispyware is a good idea too.

* Put a "router" between you and your broadband connection. This essentially puts your computer on to a network inside your house, hiding it from the net much more effectively. A combined ADSL modem/router costs from about £30. (Make sure you change the default administrator password, or hackers might break into your router via the net.) As a bonus, most routers have a firewall built in.

All this sounds like a lot of trouble, but it's now clear that there are risks as well as rewards in broadband. Just do it.

www.charlesarthur.com/blog

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