Re: ‘Rookie Realtor under attack‘ (Sept. 21)

Dear Rookie:

Just three words: Backup, Backup, Backup. My college computer professor promised us that all data storage disks, whether harddrive or floppies, are destined to fail one day. He did not add that Murphy’s Law would be a corollary to his axiom but you all know that it would be. This backup advice is easily given, not so easily taken. Have your computer guru show you how to backup files; he is probably doing it for the brokerage daily anyway. The backup part always seemed easy to do, just follow the prompts. It’s that damn “Restore” function I never got right.

Good luck.

Bob Reisig
Century 21 All Professional Real Estate
Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Rookie:

Well, Rookie, you’ve learned the first law of computers: BACK UP YOUR DATA! Every week. No matter what. If it’s critical data, burn a CD and store it off-site (like a bank vault).

I agree with you completely on hackers, and would string them up by the short hairs if I had a chance (having recently been the victim of a despicable hijacker). But they just make the backup rule even more important.

You have my sympathies, but the good news is that you’ll probably never fail to back up in the future.

Leilani Allen

Dear Rookie:

Major bummer but also a lesson learned. You, like most of us, choose to learn the hard way. Now you know why its important to backup your data.

Laura Burke
Rival Realty Inc.

Dear Rookie:

I’m a non-rookie “tech guy” who’s been around since before Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard… long before, but I digress.

Your virus-laden notebook computer does NOT need to be connected to your corporate network to effect a removal of the “trojan horse,” “back door,” or whatever pernicious little program has infested it. Virus-, worm- and trojan-removal tools are available from nearly all the major anti-virus companies, and they’re almost invariably free of cost to you. These programs can be downloaded onto a networked, corporate workstation, then transferred to floppy disk or other removable media. This media can then be used to “disinfect” your machine. The media, after use, can be thrown away as a precaution against it being used to infect another machine.

Additionally, most notebook systems on sale today feature a set of “restore disks,” which can be used to restore all of the operating system and programs, bringing the system back to the state it was in when first removed from its shipping carton.

This, I recognize, will not get your 1,000-plus contacts back on board, but the valuable lesson you’ve learned should help if this incident should recur; back up your irreplaceable files, do it daily or at least weekly, and keep your backup media in a safe, temperature-controlled location where you can retrieve it quickly in just such an emergency.

Almost any current-technology notebook system features a CD writer, and some even feature DVD writers now. This means you can back up between 750 megabytes and 4.5 gigabytes of data, on a single optical disk. The 10 minutes or so (OK, 60 minutes until you’re familiar with everything) spent backing up your data could really save you thousands of dollars in time and trouble. Also, be sure to test your backup’s ability to be restored. Take your backup media, and learn how to restore a single file from it, placing it back in its original location on your notebook. A couple sessions practicing this technique will: 1) enable you to avoid the typical “panic” when something gets hosed up, and 2) ensure that your backup software and/or media are working correctly, and that recovery is possible in the event of catastrophic file loss.

When you do get back online, avail yourself of at least two of the most popular “adware” or “spyware” removal tools… the two I’ve seen most highly recommended are SpyBot Search & Destroy by PepiMK software of Germany, and Ad-Aware from LavaSoft. By installing and running two of them, you’ll ensure that one will catch what the other misses. Also, make sure you have effective antivirus software running at all times. This means cultivating the habit of running the antivirus software’s “online update” or “live update” feature every time you use the computer. If the settings are automatic, set to run “on startup.” Get in the habit of turning on your computer, then taking a moment to organize your thoughts or your real-world desktop, while your PC runs these little tasks.

Don’t open a Web browser without checking your antivirus updates and making sure they’re current. Also, never respond to anything offered as an immediate download from any Web site, no matter how attractive the marketing prose or how annoying the pop-ups. Anything you can do with an “add-on” toolbar can be accomplished with simple operating system commands, and almost every “browser helper” or add-on menu, or screen-saver, or collection of Kewl Kursors contains some sort of “spyware” to track your Internet usage or interact invisibly with your machine.

Never, ever leave an open Web browser running on your computer, while you run off for coffee, or a bathroom break, or anything. When not actually using the Internet, disconnect from it! Idle computers, sitting with an open port to the Internet, are the hacker’s playground. Good habits make for years of safe, trouble-free computing.

And, last but not least, purchase and have configured by a professional a good, reliable personal firewall. I prefer ZoneAlarm, but there are many defense suites offered by companies such as Symantec (the Norton line), McAfee (Viruscan), and many others. These programs will close and “lock down” the unused ports on your computer. These ports are like little electronic doors to the outside world, and many of them are no longer used much, unless you’re running sophisticated server applications that require them. Even mighty Microsoft didn’t get around to addressing these “screen doors on a submarine” until the past few years, and they’ve represented a serious security risk to servers the world over, for decades now. We “geeky” types were just arrogant enough to figure that if no one knew they existed, there would certainly be no worries about exploitation. It doesn’t matter how much technology you know; common sense should rule the day, and nothing should be assumed.

Best of luck with your computer, Rook… remember, this too shall pass.

M. Thomas “Mike” Dooley
Systems Administrator
North San Diego County Association of Realtors


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