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   ► KBComputer TechSoftware   Print This     
  From the February 2012 Issue of Prestwood eMag
 
Tech Software:
The Internet's Become Nasty
 
Posted 14 years ago on 5/16/2007
Take Away: The Internet has become a dangerous, often unfriendly place, especially for software developers. This article discusses some of the problems and some of the solutions.

KB100540

It seems, these days, anybody can get in trouble on the Internet.  It happened to us, at Prestwood Software.  Somebody, in their infinite wisdom, decided our newsletter constituted “spam,” blacklisted our domain and, as a result, many of our outgoing messages were blocked.  Never mind that 1) every single person that got our newsletter subscribed and 2), we’ve always made it easy to close one’s subscription.

OK.  It wasn’t our “fault,” but the Internet is what it is.  Spammers (may every one of them burn in hell), have made the world of email downright unfriendly, and increasingly hard to navigate. 

First, though, some general facts of life:A good friend complained one day that he wanted his computer to work just like his car: You turn on the ignition key, start the engine, and go where you want. 

His frustration was understandable.  Over time, his machine had been so hammered by ad-ware, spy-ware, and viruses that it was virtually useless – and he had to pay an expert to clean out the junk and restore it to like-new performance.

I pointed out, though, that his computer would act more like his car if he treated it more like his car.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“You wouldn’t drive your car into a bad neighborhood, and leave it unlocked with the keys in plain sight, would you?  Well, that’s what you’re doing every time you connect to the Internet – driving into a bad neighborhood.”

I went on to explain what, in my opinion, comprises the minimal necessary defense.  It won’t keep you out of bad neighborhoods, but it will help keep the doors locked.

First of all, you must have a backup/restore strategy, test it, and use it regularly.  How often should you back up?  Whenever you’ve done enough work and/or accumulated enough data that you don’t want at risk.

I'm very fond of the USB or FireWire external hard drives as a solution.  Unfortunately, the backup/restore software that came with mine was pretty lame. I replaced it with FileBack PC - a great backup/restore solution.

Second, a hardware firewall. Commonly known as routers or home gateways, these stand as a bastion between your system and the outside world.  Most people get them so they can share a single broadband connection among two or more computers.  I say get one even if you have only one computer.

Third, if you have children that need computer access, and you need to use a computer for serious work, they are not the same machine!  You need two computers because the one the kids use will get messed up – time and time again.

With the kids’ computer(s), use a program like Norton Ghost.  As soon as the machine is up in pristine running condition, make a backup set.  You’ll need it – time and time again.

Fourth be religious about the application of Windows updates.  You should do two things in this area:1)      Set Windows updates to automatically download and install updates. 2)      Once a week, whether or not Windows’ automatic updates mechanism has reported anything, go out to the Windows update web site, and manually check for updates (Start | Help and Support | Keep you computer up to date wth Windows Update). Apply them.

Microsoft is constantly plugging security gaps in Windows, and you’d be crazy to not take advantage of their efforts.

Fifth, running a computer without anti-virus software is an invitation to disaster.  Pick one, pay for it, install it, run it constantly, and keep it up to date.  I can heartily recommend AVG anti-virus.  There is even a free version.

Sixth – as with anti-virus software, you also need to defend against the two other prevalent forms of mal-ware: ad-ware and spy-ware. Microsoft’s excellent Windows Defender is free for the download and, in commercial products, Webroot’s Spy-Sweeper is tops.  Again, running a machine without anti-spy ware is just plain nuts.

Spam has become so prevalent that it interferes with virtually everybody’s life.  It eats up time and machine resources.  It cuts into productivity.  It cost business millions of dollars a year. 

My personal (home) in-box gets no fewer than 300 junk emails a day.  To fight it, I’ve installed CloudMark Desktop, and I’m very pleased with its design – and results.

Become spam has become so insidious, many, many companies are taking serious measures to block it.  There are domain “black lists,” to which ISPs subscribe, in an attempt to spare their customers boatloads of junk email.  There are programs available that utilize these black lists on your desktop machine.  Email servers are becoming ever more “locked down” and secured.


It’s become an “arms race” between the spammers – and the rest of the world that would really like to just use email.For software developers, it’s a nightmare.  How do you write an application that can generate email and stand a chance against the “spam police?”

Unhappily, the answer I give you today will be inadequate tomorrow; perhaps even by the time you read this.   If you’re a developer faced with this task, see my article on psSendMail v2

It seems, these days, anybody can get in trouble on the Internet.  It happened to us, at Prestwood Software.  Somebody, in their infinite wisdom, decided our newsletter constituted “spam,” blacklisted our domain and, as a result, many of our outgoing messages were blocked.  Never mind that 1) every single person that got our newsletter subscribed and 2), we’ve always made it easy to close one’s subscription. OK.  It wasn’t our “fault,” but the Internet is what it is.  Spammers (may every one of them burn in hell), have made the world of email downright unfriendly, and increasingly hard to navigate.  In a moment, I’ll talk about a new Prestwood product to help developers produce email that stands a chance against the “spam police.” 

First, though, some general facts of life:

A good friend complained one day that he wanted his computer to work just like his car: You turn on the ignition key, start the engine, and go where you want. 

His frustration was understandable.  Over time, his machine had been so hammered by ad-ware, spy-ware, and viruses that it was virtually useless – and he had to pay an expert to clean out the junk and restore it to like-new performance.

I pointed out, though, that his computer would act more like his car if he treated it more like his car.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“You wouldn’t drive your car into a bad neighborhood, and leave it unlocked with the keys in plain sight, would you?  Well, that’s what you’re doing every time you connect to the Internet – driving into a bad neighborhood.”

I went on to explain what, in my opinion, comprises the minimal necessary defense.  It won’t keep you out of bad neighborhoods, but it will help keep the doors locked. It seems, these days, anybody can get in trouble on the Internet.  It happened to us, at Prestwood Software.  Somebody, in their infinite wisdom, decided our newsletter constituted “spam,” blacklisted our domain and, as a result, many of our outgoing messages were blocked.  Never mind that 1) every single person that got our newsletter subscribed and 2), we’ve always made it easy to close one’s subscription.


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KB Post Contributed By Wes Peterson:

Wes Peterson is a Senior Programmer Analyst with Prestwood IT Solutions where he develops custom Windows software and custom websites using .Net and Delphi. When Wes is not coding for clients, he participates in this online community. Prior to his 10-year love-affair with Delphi, he worked with several other tools and databases. Currently he specializes in VS.Net using C# and VB.Net. To Wes, the .NET revolution is as exciting as the birth of Delphi.

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