The Internet is an unregulated conglomerate of computers. There
is no central authority or set of rules for behaviour on the Internet.
As a result of this environment there are a lot of dubious activites
which occur on the Internet. It is important that you have a good
knowledge of what is out there and the methods that will be used
to compromise your system.
An unfortunate result of this unregulated nature, is that it is
quite easy for a Website to trick you into installing software that
is not needed. This is usually done by using FUD - Fear, Uncertainty
and Doubt (i.e. Displaying large ads on pages telling you that your
computer is unsecure etc)
A usual trick that nefarious companies will use is to show an advertisment
on the webpage telling you that the computer is "broadcasting
an IP address" or something similar. This is not a cause for
concern. Every computer that is connected to the Internet will have
an IP address assigned to it. This address is your computers unique
identifier on the Internet, and it is sent/used by every single
webpage you visit, and in every email that you send. It is a trivial
excercise for a person to get your IP address as it is not intended
to be hidden. Software that "hides" your IP is known as
Firewall software. Some common firewall programs include Zone-Alarm
and Black Ice.
A firewall is a useful tool to use to protect your computer, but
it is not the be-all-end-all of computer security. While it is good
to have a firewall installed, they are next to useless if your computer
is not up to date with security patches or compromised by a virus
or Trojan. You can get the latest patches for all Windows computer
by visiting the Windows
Update webpage. You should visit this page once a month or so,
to make sure that your computer is up-to-date.
To make sure that your computer is protected against Trojans and
Viruses, it is recommended that you run an Anti-Virus program. For
more information on Viruses and how to avoid them, please read the
Shoalnet guide to Viruses. All the
usual rules also apply to Spyware - these programs are notorious
for handing out your personal detail to companies/websites - for
more information on Spyware, it is highly suggested that you read
the Shoalnet guide to Spyware
Personal firewalls often have a habit of reporting a lot of normal
"background" Internet traffic as being malicious. When
you are connected to the Internet, your computer WILL be scanned.
It is a quite trivial exercise to scan a large number of computers
for security holes. You do not need to report such scans, as they
are quite common and are usually not malicous. Dial-Up Internet
users are not a very good target either, due to the slower speed
and usually short connection times - each time you disconnect/reconnect,
you will be given a new IP address from Shoalnet's IP range, and
hence any attacker will then need to find you again, break in again
etc etc. For the average home user, it is very unlikely that your
system will be a target. If you are a business user, or store vital
information on your computer, it is recommended that you run a firewall
- possibly even use a dedicated computer to run the Internet connection.
As the Internet is a global network, laws regarding pornography
and other illicit content are very easily circumnavigated, by simply
hosting the webpage/site in a country with relaxed laws, or simply
by hosting the page in an area that does not have the resources
to enforce the law (i.e. The "nigerian" money laundering
scams). It is quite easy to find this content, often unintentionally
- Many webpages will have "banner ads" which are not directly
hosted on the same server. These banner ads are randomly generated
(some pages will track your usage through cookies, and try and "customise"
the ads you see depending on the Webpages you visit), and hence
it is not unusual that ads will be displayed that are inappropriate
for the content of the actual webpage. Other pages will use tricks
in the Webpage code to show up in the results of searches for normal
content (for example, click the following
link for a Google search for "Bambi" - Some of the
results are not exactly related to Disney). There are several programs
available on the Internet which will try and filter out, or report,
inappropriate content/pages. For more information on blocking such
content, a webpage has been setup by the Australian Federal Government.
Go to http://www.netalert.net.au
for some very good information on Safe Surfing.