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Blue Cat Design Web 101

Online Security & Viruses - How real are the risks?

by Christine Collie Rowland, Blue Cat Design

As an Internet consultant and Web site designer, I am often asked about the security risks posed by having a site on the World Wide Web. Many people unfamiliar with the Internet assume that their Web home pages will stored on their home or business computer, therefore making their computer and all its contents accessible to the world at large. This is simply not the case.

Web site files - the digital computer files for the text and images - are usually stored on the computer server of an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The computer of the Web page owner is NOT connected to the Internet and is NOT accessible.

The exception to this is when a business decides to purchase and set up its own Internet server computer instead of using an ISP for Internet access. Setting up a corporate Internet server is an expensive proposition - the computer and routing hardware necessary doesn't come cheap, neither does the technical support staff required. Companies setting up their own Internet server also have to implement "firewalls" for security precautions. For probably 95% of the businesses with Web sites, purchasing and maintaining their own server doesn't make financial sense when for a low monthly fee they can store their Web site files at an ISP.

I also hear from clients concerned about contracting computer viruses over the Internet. As regular as clockwork, email messages get posted to email lists and newsgroups about non-existent viruses - most notably the "Good Times" virus. A message circulated the globe via the Net warning that just reading an email message with the "Good Times" virus would vaporize their hard drive. It simply wasn't true.

However, in the last few years viruses transmitted as email attachments from unwitting senders whose computers are infected have become a major concern.

Every computer owner and Web surfer should own anti-virus software. It's inexpensive and an absolute computer essential. Make sure you configure your anti-virus software to automatically scan any incoming email attachments for viruses.

If one is just "surfing" the Web, visiting Web sites and not downloading files or software, viruses need not be a concern. Even if files are downloaded, a few simple precautions can generally protect the average user.

Many sites do offer software (shareware or product demos) that can be downloaded from a Web page. The user normally has to click on a "download software" text link or icon to initiate the process. You make the choice - to download or not to download the software to your hard drive.

If you do decide to download any software or files from the WWW, have your anti-virus software test it first for viruses before you try out your downloaded file or demo.

More Web 101 quick articles & tips at Blue Cat Design.

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