Comments about Home Computer Security
by Dick Curry (October, 2003)
In our computer user group activity meeting this past Thursday it was pointed out that one of 13 steps each user can do to lessen risk of a hacker attack or the unintentional loading of malware on your computer was to disable network file and printer sharing privileges. I had read somewhere that this affected only Internet computer communications - not Intranet or home networking communications. Fortunately, one of our members corrected me noting that disabling file and printer sharing privileges, as I described, would also affect Intranet home working setups as well.
I have spent a part of today trying to backtrack my review but to no avail, and as I do not have home networking I cannot check it out directly. Clearly though, a lot has been written about this very real security issue. As a result I offer the following. If you do not have a home network setup I would recommend you follow the steps I outlined to uncheck network file and printer sharing privileges. If you do have several home computers networked and you want to permit file or printer sharing then leave the settings as they are and install a router with firewall capabilities to interface with the Internet. And, for that matter, I would also recommend the installation of the free version of Zone Alarm on each of the networked computers.
I also mentioned and recommended you visit the website of Steve Gibson at http://www.grc.com/ for a very thorough, well presented, and (generally) easy to understand presentation of many Internet security issues. He also talks about the risks of file and printer sharing (in a pretty geeky way). He suggests additional ways to isolate your computer from the Internet to avoid the risks file sharing privileges present.
Speaking of Steve Gibson, a question was raised in our Thursday meeting regarding the use of Windows XP firewall. I recommended the use of Zone Alarm even for those who use Win XP. Here is a quote from Steve Gibson's site. "WinXP's built-in firewall does not attempt to manage or restrict outbound connections at all. It appears to be a useful firewall for hiding the machine from the Internet (it has "stealth mode" unsolicited packet handling), but you will still need to use a good third-party personal firewall if you wish to manage and control outbound connections from your system."
With out a doubt, a firewall that does not warn you (control) outbound traffic as well as incoming traffic is only half a firewall.