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AFRICABIZ VOL 1 - ISSUE: 44
DECEMBER 15, 2002 - JANUARY 14, 2003
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Editor: Dr. Bienvenu-Magloire Quenum
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- YOU NEED MORE THAN A VIRUS SCANNER AND AN EFFICIENT FIREWALL TO BE SAFE SURFING THE NET!

In last delivery it was explained that you need to regularly update your browser in order to seal security holes. However, even if you do that on regular basis and have an efficient desktop Firewall installed, plus a virus scanner (regularly updated) you are still in the shooting line of hackers if you do not take some additional security measures to protecting your system.

Let's consider that you have a firewall installed. Most of the time  a desktop firewall likes ZoneAlarm can be configured to granting permanent Internet access to some utilities you have installed on your system. Your browser for instance. And
once the browser has the access authorization granted, it may become the perfect Trojan horse, which opens your system to the attacks of malicious Java applets, executable files. Etc.

Sometimes ago I was surprised, working on my desktop with NoteTab - a text editor, which has nothing to do with the Internet, to see a pop up message of another application asking authorization to enter the Internet traffic. (I have Zone Alarm installed on my desktop). Puzzled, I refused the authorization and instead fired up the scanning device of Lavasoft's Ad-aware Plus. Surprise, surprise: the scanning process revealed several cookies and executable files - which I haven't voluntarily downloaded - nested into my system. I cleaned up the system from the intruders and started wondering how come that Lavasoft's Ad-watch, which was running with the Firewall had not detected the intruders.

That was the first time I got the palatable evidence that a Firewall plus a virus scanner and a spyware are not enough to seal my computer from intruders. I have to mention that my browser is up to date.

Then I came across an article by Majik in xatrix.org, dated November 7, 2002, titled: Personal firewalls spring security leaks, revealing the false security illusion given to surfers by existing Firewalls. The article explains that as far as Firewalls give authorization to applications to enter the outbound Internet traffic, it is possible for ill intentioned hackers to use these applications or makeshifts to perform inbound Internet attacks. Particularly the browser is very easy to trigger to performing such attacks. Furthermore the article gave a listing of applications capable of bypassing Firewalls to performing whatsoever they wish on the attacked system. Such as FireHole, Tooleaky and YALTA (standing for Yet Another Leak Test Application).

In addition to the false illusory security sense given by Firewalls, there is more to the insecurity you are exposed to when surfing on the Net, depending on how you configured Security tabs of Internet Explorer. When you perform following sequence on your IE browser's menu, i.e. 1- Tools. 2- Internet Options. 3- Security, you reach a panel, which contains the following field:

And instruction asking you "To select one of the Web content zones to specify its security settings"

The default settings for Trusted sites' zone is Low. And the default settings for Restricted sites' zone is Medium. You can customize any of these zones as you wish.

However, if you do choose High security level for Restricted sites' zone, your surfing experience may become a painful one with regards the surfing speed; and you will notice that most sites you visit load blank pages. Why?

Because IE is just making sure that any web site added to the Restricted sites' zone is impeded to performing certain actions, which could compromise your privacy and security, such as installing and / or running: ActiveX controls, Java applets, JavaScript, Cookies Download and installation of Desktop items, Use of email address as anonymous FTP password, Hijacking your Home page and / or Search page Installing their "Sleazeware", etc.; without your knowledge.

When your settings for Restricted sites is set to default Medium level, above listed malicious actions may occur, if you visit Dirty Sites, or get a malicious Javascrips packed pop under screen, which drop Javascript viruses, executable files, malicious Cookies, Worms and Trojan horses onto your system, bypassing Firewall, Virus Scanner and Gatekeeper.

- HOW TO SQUASH BACKDOOR ACTIONS PERFORMED BY DIRTY SITES WITHIN YOUR COMPUTER

You can see, reading above exposition, that your system is not safe from hacking even if you have installed a high performing Firewall like ZoneAlarm, an up to date Virus scanner, a Gatekeeper like Lavasoft's Ad-watch. You are still at risk when visiting dirty websites configured to drop Javascripts' bombs within your system.

Several developers are now concentrated on solving the problem.

ZoneAlarm makers are promoting on their electronic store PestPatrol a powerful anti-hacker utility that finds and eliminates hacker tools, spyware and Trojans from your personal computer or corporate network.

BullGuard 2.0 combines anti-virus and 'spywall' features into a single protection solution called SpyWall, an enhanced type of firewall that monitors system, cookies and scripts' activity, making it an extremely effective gatekeeper.

Trojan Guarder detects and destroys Trojan horses and worms. Strengthens Windows and protect your computer while on the Internet. Once a Trojan or a worm appears, even hiding in other programs, Trojan Guarder displays a warning and kills it immediately.

SpySites works closely with IE' Security Zones as above explained. SpySites assists you using efficiently IE's Restricted sites zone. By using SpySites to set policies to the Restricted zone, you will prevent dirty websites from intruding on your privacy and possibly taking over your PC. Annoying popups may still appear but their ability to set Cookies or perform other JavaScript actions on your Computer will be blocked. Furthermore they will appear blank if they packed with dangerous Javascripts viruses, cookies. Etc.

SpySites Plus features a database of more than 1,800 (October 2002) Dirty Sites and amongst these the Worst Offenders ones. In one click on the Worst Offenders List's tab you will quarantine those havoc builders (51 in October 2001 database) into IE' security Restricted Zone. And the remaining suspicious dirty sites are closely watched in real time by an array of tools: 1- Cookie Manager. 2- Cookie Scanner. 3- Page Scanner. 4- Add current page to the Restricted Zone. 5- Cookie Monitor.

When you activate Cookie Monitor, Spysites Plus seats in the system tray and seamlessly monitors your surfing. It warns you in real time when a webpage is dropping a cookie into your system. You have the possibility to check right away for the characteristics of the intruding cookie and delete it immediately if you wish.

First time I run SpySites Plus' Cookie Manager, I found more than 500 cookies nested into my system. Some of them already dead - but still clogging the hard disk;. and several hundred with life time set at 26-37 years. I even found one, which lifetime was set at 6,685 years! I used Cookie Manager to clean up all these intruders to keeping only cookies related to websites I have registered to.

Watching Cookie Monitor in action, you will be amazed to see the number of cookies some clean websites could drop onto your system.

SpySites Plus puts the security level of IE's Restricted sites zone at High level without making the surfing experience a painful one as when you do the same directly through the sequence here described. It is also very user friendly; adding a dirty site to the Restricted sites zone is done from the system tray with just one click.

- YOU STILL NEED TO BE WATCHFUL

Even if you have a powerful FireWall, a Virus Scanner and a Sentinel / Gatekeeper as above listed installed on your system, you have to be on alert when surfing the net. Like you keep your house tidy with a vacuum cleaner, you should perform some cleaning of your system after each surfing sessions.

Running SpySites Plus' Cookie Scanner will remove spy and tracking cookies from the cookies' vault. Cookie Manager will assist you eliminating any non necessary cookie, particularly those with extravagant extended life time. And from time to time it will make good for your security sake if you scan the whole system with Lavasoft's Ad-aware to see if some beasts or pests are not nested into the registry and or program files.. And more important never leave your computer unattended; to be in the position to squash any suspicious action using the Internet Blocking System of ZoneAlarm.

Regularly checking for the the "tightness" of your browser's ports is also a very useful preventive action. Gibson Research Corporation performs "Test My Shields" or and "Probe My Ports" sessions.

- WARNING: BEWARE! SOME SENTINELS / GATEKEEPERS ARE JUST DISGUISED SPYWARE!


Beware of which Sentinel / Gatekeeper you choose to protect your system from malicious intruders. You won't believe it, there are now fake Sentinels / Gatekeepers and PopUp fighters, which are simply disguised Spyware. When you install them on your system, they just freely perform some dirty tricks inside your computer with your authorization as you have accepted Terms & Conditions!

I strongly urge you to spare some time to read from A to Z a paper - A New Spyware Tactic? - by Jerry Cambell of Camtech2000.com, who described two of these bamboozlers. Obviously some marketing companies are ready to do anything to take control of your desktop. Stick to well known Gatekeepers / Sentinels and take time to read available press reviews and peruse Terms & Conditions. Don't play into the hands of unscrupulous people.


- A TIP

The last release (first week of December 2002) of ZoneAlarm Pro version 3.5.166 makes also a tight use of Internet Explorer' Security Zones.

If you do click Firewall at the left side of the control panel of ZoneAlarm and then Main on the top, you reach a field on which are displayed: 1- Internet Zone Security 2- Trusted Zone Security.

The default settings for 1 is High and the default setting for 2 is Medium.


A- If you do accept these settings, your surfing speediness will crawl down very significantly even if you have a broadband connection plus even a BroadBand Booster.

B- If you opt for Medium for 1 and Low for 2, your surfing speediness will not be harmed. Anyway you are not taking any risk if your option is B, as Gibson Research Corporation "Test My Shields" and "Probe My Ports" sessions give the same results.

FREEBIE


- A VERY USER FRIENDLY CURRENCY CONVERTER

There are plenty of currency converter devices online. AFRICABIZ Online has one at following link.

However, when you are working on a financial report or bizplan for instance and need to crisscross the rates of several currencies, it is really annoying to be obliged to always load a currency converter web page in order to perform related rates' conversion.

Having a currency converter seating directly on your desktop will make your work more easier. There are not so many desktop currency converters available.

One standing out of the few for intuitive interface and user friendly performance is Currency Converter 2, a freeware program to convert between over 200 currencies.

Running Currency Converter 2, you can keep all the exchange rates up-to-date by using the one-button Internet Update-function (with proxy support) to load the Exchange Rates from the Internet. It requires Windows 95 / 98 / XP with IE4 or higher.

It features also Cross Rates device, which can list the cross rates of four different currencies; and a Mini Converter for two different currencies.

After the installation you may, under Windows 98, put the Mini Converter into your StartUp Menu like this: 1- Start. 2- Settings. 3- Tasks bar & Start Menu. 4- Start Menu Program. 5- Add. 6- Browse for Mini World Converter. 7- Select. 8- Next to choose StartUp folder and click OK to finish.

With Mini Converter in the system tray, you can launch Currency Converter 2.0 any time. One tip:: it is better to use in the Settings for rates updates Pacific Exchange Rate Service - University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Click here to reach Currency Converter web page.

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