It’s easy to be confused by all the technical jargon around broadband, especially when it relates to your security. Actually, it’s not so complicated, especially when you know what everything means and you're aware of what measures you can take to protect yourself.
The battle against viruses is very hard to fight, mostly because we can only act on a virus once it's there and we've seen it.
A lot of viruses and spyware exhibit the same behaviour, and are quite easy to spot, but the most sophisticated are a lot more difficult to identify. A trojan horse exploit will disguise itself as a useful program, and once it's been allowed, go on to infect a system.
The other issue is the motivation behind them. A lot of malware and viruses are designed by people who like to mess with stuff - there is no direct purpose apart from "because I can".
This makes them difficult to protect against because whatever you do, someone will break it just because it's there - you cannot remove the motivation.
Why is broadband security an issue?
The reason you are at risk from viruses and hackers when you are online is the fact that the internet is a free flow of information. While this means that you can access websites, it also means that other people can access your personal data by manipulating the open ports on your computer.
This is particularly relevant to broadband which is an ‘always-on’ connection. This means that people could access your information even when you’re not surfing the web.
What does it all mean?
The most innocuous of security threats, Adware doesn't steal or destroy anything. It just looks at all the sites you visit and bombards you with pop-ups, spam, and targeted advertising. These "ad-bots" can seriously slow down your computer and connection speed.
A firewall is a boundary, or a system of boundaries, between the information stored on your computer and the internet-borne viruses that it is susceptible to. It blocks out well-known viruses and recognises the weaknesses in your defence system so that they can be repaired.
Malware is designed to cause problems. It could cause your PC to crash, erase data or do unwanted things on your behalf.
Phishing is an illicit technique whereby scam e-mails are sent out pretending to be from someone you know. A common example would be a bank scam which asks you to verify your PIN and then uses the information you type in for fraudulent purposes.
There are thousands of software "ports" on your computer. A port is just a connection for data, like a letter box that information comes in and out of. Different software uses different ports, and while most are available for anything, some are always fixed to the same program.
The problem is that open ports, like open letterboxes, allow in things that you don't want to. Hackers can gain access to your computer by looking to see which ports are open (the illegal activity known as "port-scanning") and then gain access through them.
Spam is the word used to describe junk mail; e-mails that you receive from unknown senders that are usually trying to sell you something - often a miracle cure for hair loss or something similar. Spam which informs you that you have won a competition that you never entered is also common.
Spyware is a type of programme that secretly watches what you are doing online, which means it knows which websites you’ve visited and, more importantly, knows what personal information you have entered.
Trojan horses are programs that embed themselves in another program. Like a small army of angry Greeks hiding inside a wooden horse, the program waits inside the trusted program until your guard is down. Then unleashes itself and all hell breaks loose. Trojans cause serious problems and steal serious data.
Viruses happen on any computer - Macs, PCs, Linux machines, watches, phones, cars and hand-helds. If you have any kind of device that can be programmed, it can be infected - a virus is simply a computer program that you don't want. It spreads, infects and replicates itself.
This can be destructive to settings and applications, it can steal private and/or sensitive data, and sometimes it can just mess with things for the fun of it. Viruses are often transferred to your computer if you download from unauthorized websites or unwittingly allow access.
Wireless Broadband Security
Perhaps the biggest security issue you will face relates to home wireless broadband. If you do not set up a 'secure' wireless network, you may be exposed to people hacking into your wireless network (also known as a WLAN) and stealing details from your personal computer.
Even if they don't steal anything, they're still making you pay for their connection.
Hackers who pursue wireless network security flaws are known as 'war drivers' who carry out 'war driving'. However, if you set up your home wireless network with proper security, this isn't a problem you are likely to face. Simply follow your broadband provider's instructions for setting up your wireless network properly and you will not be exposed.
WEP security is no longer very secure and can be broken very quickly. The best security to use on your wireless network is WPA2.
How can I defend myself?
To secure your computer's privacy, you should install some internet security software and set up your wireless network with full security measures. There are lots of well-reputed software packages on the market, which are constantly being updated to combat new viruses.
The most popular and comprehensive ones are produced by companies such as McAfee and Norton and include features such as anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall.
When you set up your wireless network with your wireless router and software, follow the instructions for setting it up securely.
Most new computers now come with pre-installed antivirus software, so it may not be necessary to buy a new solution. If your PC is unprotected, there are a number of free programs available, like AVG, all of which have full versions ready to purchase.
Your broadband ISP might provide a security package as part of your contract. Some providers may have their own security software designed specifically for their broadband system such as Virgin Media’s PCGuard software.