. Warning: New Threats to PCs | Meetings & Conventions

Warning: New Threats to PCs

Working with Microsoft Windows XP? Update now for tighter security

When my daughter went to do some research on the Internet the other day using her notebook computer, she found she couldn’t get to any sites. My first thought was that the wireless wasn’t working; finding that was not the problem, I next tried firing up Internet Explorer (IE).
    The system kept attempting to connect to a bad URL I knew that because at the bottom of the screen, it kept flashing “badurl.grandstreetgraphics.com.” Simple enough to solve, right?
    Nope. After trying other solutions checking her start-up items, Internet settings, etc. I decided to see what grandstreetgraphics was, so I Googled it. Lo and behold, not only was an actual site listed, but there were numerous other links that described in painful detail that I wasn’t the only one trying to solve this problem.
    I hate to admit that, a week later, I still haven’t resolved it.
    It appears that a series of downloaded files affected the registry and default search files of her IE. Where these files came from is still up in the air, as there appear to be several possible sources but the most common cited by several Internet discussions is a shopping service that plants cookies and tracks where you go on the web.
    This is malicious activity and, as the tales of frustration in trying to fix the problem indicate, very damaging and time-consuming.
    Is this an isolated incident or the beginning of a new strain of viruses that infect and attack our PCs through the cookies and “bots” that we have become so used to? The little “Save your password” message IE flashes could actually be writing files to your computer that allow others to monitor your online activities and copy your credit card and bank information.

Fight Back
So what are we to do? First, if you run the Microsoft Windows operating systems, set your PC up for automatic updates so new security features are added as soon as they’re available.
    Next, visit Microsoft, which has released a major update, Windows XP Service Pack 2 (www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/sp2). It includes security fixes and new features like a pop-up blocker, an improved firewall, better wireless support, general updates and enhancements to further protect your privacy.
    After installing an update, some programs might not work as before because of the expanded firewall capabilities mainly those programs that provide access to your PC from remote locations. Instructions are available from Microsoft for re-enabling those programs. Online, you’ll also find a list of other affected applications, and instructions for getting them to work with SP2. Check out Microsoft’s Support Knowledge Base for more help (www.support.microsoft.com).
    With an update of this magnitude, remember the install can take quite a while to complete. Is it worth the time? The consensus in the tech world is that if you have a stand-alone PC connected to the Internet, the SR2 update is worth the trouble compared with permitting unauthorized access to your PC and personal details.

More Fixes
This isn’t the end of XP’s security issues. As I write, Microsoft has released an advisory that the popular .jpeg graphics format might be infected with a virus that lets a hacker take control of your PC, whether you view the file locally, over the Internet or open it in a Word document. It’s kind of like the dikes in Holland you plug one hole and another pops up.
    Bottom line: Stay in tune with updates to your operating system and be aware of funny things happening on your PC.

Bob Walters, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.