The word MSBlast is enough to strike fear into the heart of any small-business owner. But as is the case with many computer security problems, this outbreak could easily have been prevented with good practices and the right software and hardware. Here's what you need to know to keep your business up and running.
The first step doesn't require you to purchase anything. You simply need to make sure that every computer on your network has the latest patches and updates. Both Microsoft Windows XP and Apple Mac OS X make it easy for you by including utilities that automatically scan your system, download any updates, and install them for you. But you must make sure that all of your employees are taking advantage of this; if everyone kept their PCs up-to-date, MSBlast would have been a non-event.
Second, install a good anti-virus program and keep it current. McAfee VirusScan and Symantec's Norton AntiVirus are the two most popular products, and both are fine choices, but there are many other solid products on the market as well. Anti-virus programs rely on a database of virus definition files to recognise and eradicate viruses. When a new one pops up, nearly all of the anti-virus companies automatically update their definition files, which is why it is critical to keep your anti-virus program updated regularly.
If you have a network with 10 or more PCs, you should consider investing in a network solution with multiple client licences; these protect servers as well as client PCs, and include administrative tools so that you can ensure that all systems keep an anti-virus program installed and up-to-date. All it takes is one weak link to break the entire chain.
While anti-virus programs are critical, they can't handle all types of security threats. There are two basic types of firewalls -- hardware and software -- and we recommend that you use both. Until recently, hardware firewalls were strictly for large companies, but thanks to the rapid spread of wireless networking, many router/gateways now include hardware firewalls that monitor incoming Internet traffic. These cost a few hundred dollars and in most cases require no real setup or ongoing maintenance -- they just work in the background.
For complete protection, you should consider adding a software-based firewall such as Symantec's Norton Personal Firewall, Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm or ZoneAlarm Pro, or McAfee's Personal Firewall Plus. These are suitable for small networks and require nominal configuration to distinguish between legitimate incoming and outgoing traffic and digital trespassers.
If you're really worried about security, also consider a network-intrusion package, which will alert you if someone has made it past your defences and will give you time to track down who they are. These utilities can be expensive, but they are surprisingly easy to use. You'll also find numerous scanning utilities, which probe your network for holes and vulnerabilities, available for free. Finally, consider investing a few hundred dollars in an independent security consultant who can install some of these applications for you and show you how to use them.
McAfee VirusScan 8.0
VirusScan 8.0 sports a trimmer profile, a simpler interface, and fast performance, but support is more of a hassle than before.
Norton AntiVirus 2004
NAV 2004 is still a good choice for first timers, but its minor improvements means NAV 2003 users need not upgrade.
PC-cillin Internet Security 2004
With a firewall and an antispam tool built right in, PC-cillin gives you more for your money than other antivirus apps on the market do.
ZoneAlarm with Antivirus
Bargain hunters, ZoneAlarm with Antivirus is the security deal for you.
ZoneAlarm Security Suite
ZoneAlarm Security Suite puts Norton Internet Security and McAfee Internet Security to shame with its easy-to-use features.
Norton Internet Security 2004
An excellent all-in-one PC defence: Norton Internet Security 2004 is the best all-in-one security suite, thanks to its fine spam filter.
The DG834G combines five network functions in a single box Ã¢â‚¬" ADSL modem, router, switch, firewall and 802.11g wireless access point. Despite some dodgy firmware updates, it's one of the better single-box router solutions on the market.
SMC ADSL Barricade g
BThis device's clean user interface makes it easy to set up; this, and its good feature set, makes the ADSL Barricade g an excellent all-round Internet connection sharing solution.
Netgear's FWG114P wireless access point/router/firewall/print server is a great all-in-one device for those planning to set up a home office.