Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Advice for computer and internet safety

By Mohammad Yahya Waliullah

Director, Information Technology & Statistical Bureau, Sir Syed University of Engineering & Technology, Karachi and ex-Secretary to Government of Sindh
(Exclusive to Pakistan News & Features Services)

With the continued innovation of computers, mobile phones and other useful devices, the lifestyle of majority of population with access to computer and internet has drastically changed.

There are over half a billion households making use of computer and internet in the world and Pakistan is catching up fast with over ten million computer-literate population.

The mobile phone companies have sold over 118 million Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs). Many activities like verification of National Identity Cards (NIC), name in voters list, payment of bills, electronic banking, travel reservation and ticketing are either done on-line through computer or through mobile phone with internet facility.

The Students and teachers at schools, colleges and universities are making frequent use of computer for studies, research, gaming, entertainment and other purposes. A large chunk of the population browses websites for seeking information that was not available earlier.

There has been phenomenal growth in the use of computer and internet in the country. By the end of this decade it is likely that use of computer and internet will become an absolute necessity and no household will be deemed complete without a computer and internet facility. The computer and internet technology has made life easier, having provided level playing field to people living in developed and developing world.
However, its use has a price, vulnerability and potential threats. Like any other technology computer, internet and mobile phone users may face potential threats and risks.

Not many users are aware of potential risks and resulting loss of information, data and transactions that may not be retrievable. The potential threats to computer and internet users chiefly for home based personal, desktop, laptop, palmtop, hand held and mobile phones with internet applications need to be learnt and understood in order to be more vigiliant in meeting the challenge.

It will be pertinent to mention that early computer virus was detected in Pakistan in the days when plastic diskettes were used for information and data storage in early seventies. The virus was transferred through computer diskettes from Pakistan and it spread through network (inter-connectivity) in USA.

Time Magazine had published an article quoting a couple of teenagers from Lahore whose diskette spread virus (may be at that time they did not know what the virus is) in the network and large number of computers became dysfunctional.

Non starting, breakdown or malfunctioning of computer is largely due to power break down or flow of current to Central Processing Unit (CPU) and monitor through power cord. Power plug and flow of current to computer hardware needs to be checked. Sudden power failure or power surge may result in damaging small components in computer and may even erase data and information.

It is advisable to install a circuit breaker or low cost Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) system. Any peripheral attached to computer such as printer, fax machine and game ports, etc. need to be checked before working starts. As technology has advanced it is easy to detect non starting or malfunctioning of computer hardware and simply replacing those components that are malfunctioning.

It is also important that computer hardware be protected from dust and heat. Small and tiny parts in the computer hardware are susceptible to dust and heat. Now days small fans are built-in in the CPU but excessive heat may cause damage to computer components. 

There is potential threat like denial of service, phishing, and virus attack etc from the use of internet for any purpose like e-mailing, web browsing, social media websites, banking, financial transactions, entertainment and gaming, etc.

When a computer user uses internet to connect to one’s destination for any purpose, it is a complex arrangement and spreads like bird’s nest around globe. The internet finds its own path in very complex cobweb and connects one to destination site.

For example, someone wants to use internet for web browsing or emailing a click chooses its own path to reach destination in virtually no time. However, during this process there is a danger of virus attack of many types while reaching the destination and flow of information from destination to origin.

After having said this much, there are security tips like home made remedies for computer and internet users and may save/protect from virus attack that may destroy information and data in storage device or copy to hackers for ulterior purposes.

When using computer and internet take following steps that may provide a safety shield to users.

**Ensure that password is kept secret; it should not be shared with any one. Try to make password such that it can be remembered easily. A password should neither be too short nor too long. Keep on changing password quite often.

**Keep operating system, browser, antivirus and other critical software, latest and update. Most software for home based users can be down -loaded freely. Choose a browser that is more effective, easy to use, and have built-in antivirus software. Many anti virus software can also be downloaded freely.

**Verify authenticity of requests on e-mails you receive. In case you are asked to provide some information and data: ensure that it does not go in the hands that may potentially damage you. Contact the company or person requesting information and ensure that company or individual request is genuine and authentic.

**Check website Universal Resource Link (URL) carefully as malicious websites at times confuse you through very similar wordings and spellings as that of authentic and genuine website and once open it may seriously damage. 

**In social media websites, like Facebook, Linkedin, Youtube, Twitter in video games, forums, chat sites and personal web-sites, do not put personal information that may have potential to harm you.

**Be cautious for unknown links, e-mail or through message. Do not open suspicious link, answer e-mail or reply messages on web-site or mobile through normal SMS or messaging through internet.

**Be careful about your internet connection. Internet connection through cable is risky. Take internet connection from reputable Internet Service Provider (ISP). Ensure that ISP has installed security software like spam deduction and firewall, etc. Now a days wireless and Wi Fi connection are available. Check Band Width, it is measured in terms of MB (Mega Bytes). Broad Band connection provides higher speed of connectivity.