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To Serve And Protect

If you're worried about viruses or hackers wreaking havoc on your system, take some precautionary measures-and breathe a little easier.

The best way to make sure your computer is ready to do battle with its many potential enemies is to load it up with software designed to protect it from potential hackers and evil viruses.

Think of your computer as an extension of yourself: You don't run into the street without looking both ways, and you don't blindly enter crime-ridden areas without taking precautions. Simply put, letting your guard down makes you susceptible to all sorts of bad things.

The same goes for your computer, regardless of type or operating system. But, unlike you, it probably faces more precarious positions in a day than you do in a year. And if you connect to the Internet, beware: Countless unwanted agents are at work in cyberspace, constantly spying on you and hacking into your files for amusement or criminal activity.

In light of all this, every system should regularly run a basic antivirus software program and have general Internet security software (such as personal firewalls).

Playing With Fire

When cruising the Web, your computer is left open to viruses and hackers accessing your data. The prevalence of single user systems constantly connected to the Net via DSL lines or cable modems has even brought the problem home to small-office and homebased entrepreneurs. Did you know that remote users without a firewall can give hackers a direct connetion to such a company's intranet?

For these lone rangers, there are personal "firewalls," software that protects PCs from outside intruders. For as little as $29.95 (street), MacAfee's Guard Dog http://www.mcafee.com will protect your hard drive by checking incoming mail, attachments and downloads for viruses. The program also builds a firewall around your system, guarding it from potential intruders and hostile cookies (those applets that attach themselves to your system as you cruise the Web, tracking your every move). To see it for yourself, download a free trial version from the Web site.

For more sophisticated users, InfoExpresshttp://www.infoexpress.com offers FireWalker VPN (virtual private networking), which allows a software suite secure remote access to intranets. FireWalker VPN has three components that make it possible to share all company resources with whomever you like without risk. One component gives remote employees and consultants access to file sharing and Internet applications; another provides a gateway that supports remote management of clients on the network; and, finally, a personal firewall protects home users from being a hacker invasion. The FireWalker VPN Suite costs $129 per user.

Always Use Protection

Symantec http://www.symantec.com has always been a leader in antivirus and PC-maintenance tools. With Norton Internet Security 2000 ($53.95 for the download, $59.95 street for the CD), Symantec makes its first attempt to break into the Internet security and privacy market. With Norton Internet Security 2000, users get firewall protection combined with the award-winning Norton AntiVirus software. Also, Norton Internet Security 2000 includes a bonus parental-control application that gives users assurance that their kids are cruising the Web safely. In addition, a privacy component lets you selectively block cookies to prevent unsolicited Web sites from gathering personal information.

Although antivirus software and personal firewalls promise to protect your hard drive, you can never be too safe. Be sure to back up your system on a regular basis and save pertinent files to a separate disk. That way, in the event of a crash, you'll be able to rebuild your system.

One Internet-based backup solution comes from Connected (http://www.connected.com). Its Connected Online Backup allows you to back up unlimited data to the Internet using a familiar Explorer-like program. Connected performs backups automatically and securely, and can tell the difference between the OS, applications and data files, making it easy to do more efficient backups.

Future Forward

We've seen the future-and it's Web-based software applications. Add MacAfee http://www.mcafee.com to your list of favorites, and you'll be able to solve PC problems with just a click of your mouse. On the site, you can perform antivirus checks with the latest VirusScan updates-quickly ridding your machine of today's malicious viruses. Visit the PC CheckUp Center to optimize your computer's performance. You can also use MacAfee.com to find updates on previously installed software. There's a free 14-day trial, and a year's subscription is $29.95.

Adding these tools to your PC's arsenal is simple and effective. Don't wait until you've been burned; take responsibility for the security of your files and personal information today.

Cassandra Cavanah is a computer journalist with an entrepreneurial focus who's made a homebased career of writing and consulting on tech-related issues. She can be reached at ccavanah@earthlink.net.

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This article was originally published in the April 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: To Serve And Protect.

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