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COMMENTARY

Protect Business From Hackers


By Rob Kay and Jeff Bloom

Not too long ago a dear friend of ours who owns a home-based e-commerce business (let’s call her Julie) woke up one day to find that her web site had been obliterated by a hacker. Fortunately she had backed it up but her business was out of commission for a few days. She got back online, shaken but wiser for the experience.

Online users have always been susceptible to hacking but the problem with home offices has grown proportionately with the introduction of cable modems and DSL technology. Both allow you the option of leaving your computer on, unattended all the time. The shift from dial-up Internet connections to fast, constant links are making home computer users vulnerable to the types of attacks from hackers that in the past were almost exclusively a worry for corporations.

"Most home users or people with home offices aren't thinking in terms of security," said Earl Ford, President of Pacific Interactive, a computer network expert in Honolulu. "The fact is that Internet Service providers are generally more interested in getting customers on their networks. Generally security isn’t brought up in the sales pitch. This is really a mistake. People who use Roadrunner or DSL really have to walk into this with their eyes wide open. Otherwise you’re asking for problems."

In short, with your machine perpetually online, chances are greater you’ll be hacked if you haven’t taken some cursory security measures. After Julie’s fiasco we thought it would be instructive to determine how many Hawaii business people might be vulnerable to a hack attack.

We’ve always preached security but unfortunately Julie’s experience is not unusual. We’ve known of more than a few people who have been "hacked". Some of these unwanted visitors were malicious—most were not. Still, it’s a pretty scary thought. Someone can read your most personal email messages, check your stock portfolio or financial records or perhaps check out your downloaded collection of racy photos.

Although as Earl Ford alluded to, sales brochures from cable companies don’t go out of their way to discuss the security issues, companies such as Oceanic and GTE are well aware of the problems imposed by their networks. Kit Beuret, a spokesman for Oceanic advises users to purchase a security program (which will be reviewed in this article) or to exit RoadRunner when their machines are not in use. Turning the file sharing off when your machine is not online also, Beuret adds, "is a good idea".


It’s Later Than You Think

So how many computer users are vulnerable online snoops or vandals?

We asked Randy Williams, a security specialist at Computer Training Academy, to take an electronic survey of local and mainland computer users to find out how many typical computer users might be susceptible to hackers.

He created a sophisticated program that was able to probe cable, ADSL and dialup networks and gauge the security of computer users. Obviously he didn’t hack directly into any of the computers on the network. The program did however allow him to "see" precisely how many computers were vulnerable.

In all Randy looked at 8000 cable modem users and 366 ADSL users in Oahu and in San Diego on several occasions this year. The survey’s results were startling and more serious than even we suspected.

Of the more than 8000 users sampled, Williams found more than 25 per cent had no security measures in place. The machines we classified as vulnerable were literally open books to anyone with a computer. Not even the most elementary security measures were taken to protect one’s data.


Protect Yourself

There are some very simple ways to keep the hackers from even seeing your presence on the Network which is the first step in protecting yourself. Here are some hints that Randy Williams, security ace suggests:

Disable the File and Printer Sharing options on Windows 95/98. This can be done in second by opening the Network dialog box. Just click "Start", point to Settings, click Control Panel, and then double-clicking Network. From there click "File and Print Sharing". Click to clear the check box for the sharing options you want to remove, and then click OK.

Disable Net Bios Interface on Windows NT. You can do this by going into the control panel. Choose Network. Click on the bindings tab and then there will be section for Net Bios Interface. Simply click on the disable button.

Log off the Internet when your machine is not in use.

Disconnect the cable or DSL modem.


Programs That Protect You from Hackers

There are several inexpensive security programs available that will both protect you from unwanted visitors and in some cases, alert you to their online presence.

Sybergen Networks (www.sygate.com), which produces corporate security protection software, has a software package for home users called Syshield. Syshield comes highly rated by many of the trade magazines. We evaluated a copy of it (off a CD ROM) and found it very easy to install and use. It can be set up to automatically switch on when your computer boots up and you can adjust the security level to your own liking. At $29.95 it’s reasonably priced and should meet the requirements of most home office users for both Window’s 95/98 and NT platforms.

Signal 9 Solutions (www.signal9.com) which also makes products for big businesses and individuals has a similar product called Conseal Private Desktop for Windows 95/98 and a business version for NT called ConSeal PC Firewall. Whereas Syshield from Sybergen is certainly adequate, from our perspective Signal 9’s products are industrial strength. If you’re really paranoid Conseal Private Desktop will give you the kind of security that a major corporationNATO currently enjoys. At $49.95 for the Private Desktop and $150 for the NT version it’s more expensive and slightly more difficult to install than Sybergen’s product.


Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who works with technology companies in Hawaii and Silicon Valley. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Jeff Bloom is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839- 1200.

Pacific Business News - Friday October 1, 1999

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