Newsgroups and Usenet Security and Safety

Two important security issues to consider regarding downloading from usenet newsgroups

  • Virus protection: Many people subscribe to a newsgroup server to access binary data. Unlike a well controlled shareware providers such as Tucows or, binaries posted to newsgroups carry no anti-virus guarantees. In fact, they are a favorite way for virus authors to propagate their work. Not only are EXE, BAT and PIF files suspect, but now even MP3, WMV, and other multi-media files can contain viruses. A good virus detection package is essential. Consider yourself warned.
    • Virus Detectors – One of the best is McAfee Antivirus. An active virus checker works in the background, checking each application as it is launched for virus signatures. It also checks for suspicious activity, such as modification to the boot record of a hard disk. Passive virus checking is typically in the form of a scheduled review of all the files on your computer. The virus checker goes through all your hard disks looking at each file to see if it might have a virus. When done, it usually produces a report, and if viruses are found gives you the opportunity to repair or delete the file. Most major antivirus packages include a subscription to keep you up to date on the latest viruses.
    • Best practices – When downloading files, a good practice is to always place them in a specific directory. Never launch files from the newsreader (JPG files are typically safe however). Before launching any other types of files, especially EXE files, direct your antivirus program to run a manual test against the download directory. Only when you get a clean bill of health should you launch any downloaded files.

  • Hacking protection: Any time you are connected to the internet, you are vulnerable to a hacker. Typically hackers go after larger companies that have information or resources they can use, but even private PC’s are vulnerable to hacking. Cable Modem and DSL users are especially vulnerable since their connection is “always on.” There are a number of ways to protect yourself.
    • A firewall is a piece of software that checks all data going in and out of your computer for suspicious activity. Usually data coming in from the outside was preceded by a request from your computer. Data in and out of your computer also flows through pre-identified “ports”. A firewall uses this information to identify unwelcome traffic and blocks it from getting to your computer. An excellent, low-cost firewall is offered by McAfee. If not only blocks hackers from getting in, but also includes wizards to help you define blocking rules and an automated reviewer that checks the rules you’ve made for holes. It also includes software to scan your PC for previously installed software that might be spying on your activities. You can get McAfee antivirus with built in firewall at a reduced price here.
    • Cable modem and DSL users often use an extra piece of hardware called a router or NAT. While the industry has somewhat twisted the true definition of router in this sense, what these product effectively do is allow multiple computers to connect to one broadband connector. These solutions also provide a very valuable hacker defense as well. In order to allow multiple computers to use the same line, they use a technology known as Network Address Translation. This effectively creates a second set of numbers for each computer connected to it, all sharing the same address to the outside world. When a hacker tries to attack, they only see the outside number and not the number for any of the inside computers. While this does not negate the need for a firewall entirely, proper configuration of these tools can accomplish much of the same functionality. Some of the better known products in this category come from SMC and Netgear.