On the Fourth of July, cyber attacks started targeting computers at the White House, the Pentagon and other major U.S. government agencies. The New York Stock Exchange and the South Korean government were also targets. Who and what are behind the attacks? Two experts take your questions.
How can the average person protect his or her computer or Web site from being infected and used in similar cyber attacks?
Many viewers asked how they can protect their personal computers and Web sites from being infected and used in similar cyber attacks. How can they tell if their computers are being hacked? How should average Internet users protect themselves?
Randy Sabett responds:
Most importantly, robust information security consists not
just of technology but instead a combination of people, process and technology.
While in a corporate environment, these can be integrated into the overall
operation of the business, in the personal/home setting it can be a somewhat
more difficult task. Numerous mechanisms do exist, however, for protecting
one's personal computer. The operating system often has a built-in firewall and
various security settings. These, in conjunction with various third-party
products can provide adequate protection against most of the threats that an
average user will face. In addition to numerous well-known commercial products
from such vendors as Symantec and McAfee, several free or shareware products
exist. A comprehensive review of several of these products along with links for
downloading them can be found here.
Although the article is dated 2006, the links are to products that were updated
as recently as just a few days ago and contain recent updates of many of the
As stated above, though, security also involves people and
process, which includes the education and training of everyone who uses a
personal computer to access the Internet. In many ways, this is an
issue requiring an increase in awareness and establishing, in effect, a "culture
of security" whereby it becomes second nature for people to act
securely online. To illustrate this, think about the fact that many thousands
of so-called 'zombies' were used in the recent distributed denial of service
(DDOS) attacks. Zombies are simply computers infected with malicious software
(or "malware"). In most if not all cases, that software was not
actively inserted into the affected machines by an attacker. Instead, the
malware got loaded on to the computer as a result of a user either clicking on
an unknown or untrusted URL (i.e., link to a Web site) or opening an
attachment from an unknown or untrusted recipient. If a culture of security
exists (where everyone knows not to click or open something they don't trust,
or if they do get infected, they have security software to defend them) the
severity of the recent attacks would have been severely reduced or even
Rod Beckstrom responds:
Detecting if your computer has been compromised can be difficult and there is no one reliable means of detecting all infections or attacks. Your suspicions should be raised if you encounter abrupt increases in the time the computer takes to boot up or down, if your browser has unusual or frequent pop-ups, toolbars or delays reaching certain Web sites.