By Syd Tash (Sun 27 Apr 2008)
Back on November 1, I talked about MS Word, and how it could be revealing a lot of information about you. Your browser may be doing the same thing. When you visit a Web site, it gets your IP (Internet Protocol) address, of course. This string of numbers is the “real” address of your computer. It allows other computers and servers to locate each other, and Web sites, on the Internet.
Your IP address does not reveal directly who you are, but it easily shows your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and your city or region. If you are uncomfortable with this, you can set up a proxy server. Find one at your favorite search engine.
A proxy is a computer that sits between you and the Web. Other computers and Web sites see the proxy’s IP address instead of yours. But law enforcement agencies can still find you, so do not use this method for illegal purposes!
With your IP address in hand, malicious sites can scan your computer, looking for weaknesses such as open ports, or a Windows that has not been updated in a while. Ports are access points or communications links to Windows. There are 65,536 of them. (Note that this is not the same animal as the hardware ports on your computer, where you connect different devices.)
When an open port is detected, it can often indicate which program is in use. For example, outgoing email will usually use SMTP on port 25, while browsers use port 80. Once the current program is known, a hacker will try to exploit known flaws in it.
The contents of your Clipboard can be easily seen as well, which is why you should never copy and paste IDs, passwords, or other sensitive info. Web sites also record which Web browser and Windows version you are using. Site owners use this data to ensure that their sites display correctly on your monitor, for instance.
Studies have shown that most malicious attacks attempt to exploit flaws in Windows that were patched, or fixed, months previously. So your best and easiest defense is to simply update your Windows and security programs on a regular schedule.
Microsoft releases updates to Windows on the second Tuesday of each month, which has therefore become known as (you guessed it) Patch Tuesday. However, emergency fixes could be issued at any time, so it is a good idea to check the Windows Update or Microsoft Update site every week or two.
Syd Tash is a noted computer security consultant and author of How to Protect Your Computer Online. He has been keeping Internet surfers safe and secure since the last century. Find out how he does it; protect your own computer with five layers of protection right here:
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