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Computer Security Around the World

November 17, 2009

How safe is your computer and your data when you use your desktop computer at home? Are you protected by up-to-date and properly maintained antivirus, antispyware, antiphishing and firewall software? Are you being a NAT router so that your computer cannot be directly accessed from the public Internet? Most folks reading this would probably answer yes.


Now, supposing you have a laptop? Same protection at home? Should be.


Now take your laptop out to a public hotspot in your home town. No more NAT to hide your computer. No control over what’s running on the local subnet. Still safe?


What have you exposed yourself to? You need to worry about other users on the same subnet, and possibly, depending on how the hotspot owner has protected the local network, about every user machine on the Internet. Are you allowing NetBIOS connections? Have shared folders without password protection? Do you have a software firewall to protect your computer if the network owner isn’t?


Now go to a developing country and connect to a hotspot there. Or perhaps sit down at a computer at an Internet cafe. No longer so certain?


Besides all of the issues of being on a public IP address you don’t know if you can trust the local network or ISP. They may be propagating botnets or serving up viruses or spyware. The cafe’s machine may have a keylogger installed or be infected with a virus. You may unwittingly transmit malware to your own mail server or to a recipient by sending from that machine.


As detailed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation “Malware is a catch-all term referring to software that runs on a computer and operates against the interests of the computer’s owner. Computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, “spyware”, rootkits and key loggers are often cited as subcategories of malware.”


A report released by antivirus software vendor Panda Security in September 2009 found slightly more than 58% of the PCs in the US infected with some type of malware, placing the US 9th among 29 countries surveyed. The highest was Taiwan with 69% infected, followed closely by Russia with 68%. This report covered mainly North America, Europe and the major industrial countries of East Asia and Latin America. How do you imagine poorer and more remote countries would fare in comparison?


The bottom line: Make a credit card purchase or pay some bills from an infected computer – one you control or a public one – and your accounts and passwords may be compromised. Check your e-mail and your account and address book may be enlisted in a SPAM or phishing campaign.


What can you do to protect yourself? Stand by for Part 2.


David Schaffer

There Must Be A Better Way


Prepared for Firelytics

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