posted Mar 17, 2001

Defeating E-mail bugs and Spyware on Windows
Protecting Yourself
3/17/2001; 7:28:09 PM

You can't quite eliminate spy-ware with these techniques, but you can make a massive dent in them.

About a year ago I found a product called Zone Alarm, which bills itself as a free personal computer firewall program. It's not quite what I'd call a firewall, though, in that it takes a decidely non-traditional approach to the problem. Basically, it grants and denies permission to access the internet on a per-program basis, independantly for home networks and the Internet. For instance, you can tell this program to allow your browser full access to the Internet, yet some internal corporate program access only to the local net. Or you can allow programs to go out to the net, but not accept connections (or vice versa).

When last I left this program, it was very good, but not quite useful enough for what I wanted to do. That has changed. I strongly recommend that you download and use Zone Alarm if you are using a Windows computer. It protects you from a large number of security issues simply by the virtue of its design.

In order to access the Internet, programs must first get permission from you in an explicit pop-up box. Thus, when Zone Alarm pops up a question asking about some program you don't think should access the internet, or about some program you've never even heard of, you can say "No", preventing the spy-ware from reporting back to whatever it's reporting to. This means the only "spyware" that gets through is spyware that has legitimate reason to access the Internet, like Real Audio.

To prevent e-mail bugs, add your e-mail server to the local network zone (with Security->Advanced->Add->Host Site, type "Mail Server" and the host name, accepting all IPs that may come up), and then grant your mail client permission to only access the local net. Now, if your e-mail program tries to download an image or something, it won't work, so the spammers won't be alerted to your presence. (Unfortunately, this won't work with Netscape, as both web access and mail access occur in the same program, so you can't differentiate between them.)

It's great!


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