Joanna, a Computer Science student at Makerere University had spent 3 months preparing her final year project. Two days before she was due to present it, she received an e-mail from someone she did not know that had an attachment enticingly named “Your Future.”
As it does to the best of us, curiosity got the better of her and she opened the said attachment. When she did, the worm buried in the attached mail went on to erase her entire hard-disk. She ran about all over the city looking for help from all her IT-capable friends but it was all for naught.
She stood at the very precipice of despair, long past the edge of desperation, when a friend connected her to Nsereko Deo who operates an IT consultancy in the city centre. Nsereko spent a whole night trying to restore her data and then sort through it looking for her project. She only just made it to her presentation.
“Due to more and more people using computers, computer-based attacks have also increased exponentially. They manifest themselves in a myriad of ways generalized as hacking, but involve things like data and password theft, trojan horses, worms and viruses,” said Nsereko.
Many of these viruses are merely nuisances, but there is a growing trend of people committing crimes through computers. A police officer who would rather remain anonymous says the Uganda Police E-Crimes Unit is still in its infancy in its pursuit of E-crimes— so do not expect them to pursue that person who stole your password because you were not too careful at the Internet Café.
“Personal computer users can take the simple step of installing an antivirus program, updating it regularly and actually using it to scan their c o m p u t e r s regularly,” said Ernest Mwebaze a lecturer at Makerere University Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (FCIT).
The skills we will discuss should help you protect yourself from falling victim to attack and loss. What must I do to protect myself, you ask? These are a few basic steps you can take as an individual to keep yourself safe:
Task 1 – Install Anti-Virus Programs
An antivirus program looks at the contents of each file on your computer or on a device like a flash-disk you attach to it, searching for specific patterns that match a profile called a virus signature. For each file that matches a signature, the anti-virus program typically provides several options on how to respond, such as removing the offending patterns or destroying the file. Also computers users should continue to update the anti-virus to help the program remain able to keep you safe. There are many free to-download antivirus applications on the Internet. The top five are Avast, BitDefender, Avira, ESET NOD and AVG, all of which allow personal users to secure their computers.
Task 2 – Use Care When Reading Email with Attachments
Hackers—people who break into computers—like to attack unsuspecting victims by sending them e-mails with attachments that contain various viruses, or trojan horses (that operate like the iconic equine of legend after which they are named) which when clicked cause unimaginable damage to your machine and your data. Open with care or use the scanning features available on email providers such as Google Mail.
Task 3 – Make Backups of Important Files and Folders
Always backup your sensitive data, information, files or folders onto an external medium like a hard-disk or DVD to ensure that even in the eventuality of loss, you can still restore your data from your backup.
Task 4 – Use Strong Passwords
Passwords like “password” are easy to crack—even novice hackers can figure them out. The best passwords have a mix of letters, numbers and even punctuation marks and are at least 14 characters long.
Task 5 – Use Extra Care When Downloading and Installing Programs
Download programs from official program vendor websites and not from other shareware sites. Sometimes people upload programs that have malicious subprograms designed to hurt rather than help the downloader to these shareware sites. It is safest to download from the official program vendor website or from reputable providers such as CNET or Brothersoft.
Task 6 – Be vigilant
You are not the 999,999th visitor to that website, so do not click that link to see what you’ve “won.” You might just win yourself a trip to the IT support office. When typing your password, make sure the suspicious fellow behind you is not taking too keen an interest. Don’t forget to sign out of your account at the Internet Café.
Following these simple steps is your first foray into the veritable maze that is computer security. Be smart and you and your treasured computer and data will be safe.
By Herbert C. Byamukama