I admit it--I dread phone calls and email messages from friends and relatives with new broadband connections who want to know how to protect their computers from being attacked over the Internet. Yes, it's a good thing that these people are aware of the potential problems with broadband connections. But what's bad is that, in most cases, these users won't understand my answers to their questions. This means I'll need to provide step-by-step instructions or, heaven forbid, hold their hands over the phone and help them configure the existing security features in Windows or suggest third-party products to provide necessary computer security.
Although many are quick to accuse Microsoft of being at the heart of the computer security problem, I think the company has provided a decent solution for nontechnical users who want to secure their PCs. That solution is the "Microsoft Security Protect your PC" Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/security/protect . The Web site explains to the nontechnical (and non-networked) user how to use an Internet firewall, update the computer, and use antivirus software. Information on the site supports all current Windows desktop client OSs, in addition to the legacy 32-bit Windows OSs (Windows NT and Windows 9x). The scope of information the site provides gives you an idea about how important Microsoft thinks security is: Try finding new support tools for those legacy OSs anywhere else on Microsoft's site.
When you select your OS on the site's opening page, you can either print out the recommended steps to secure your system or let the site walk you through the process step by step. If your OS is Windows XP, you'll have the option of downloading and running an automatic configuration tool that will check your computer's current security settings and optimize them for securing Internet access. For other OSs, the site will provide links to downloadable third-party software that you can use to protect your computer. Special offers are available on the linked products, including a free 12-month subscription to Computer Associates' antivirus software.
To provide additional help in explaining security concepts and practices, the site offers three video streams. You'll find one stream each for firewall, update, and antivirus software information. Finally, for any users who are completely befuddled by the information presented on the site, Microsoft offers a free support hotline at 866-727-2338.
During the holiday season, I passed this Web site along to a half-dozen family members who received new computers for the holidays. With the exception of one person, who was trying to configure wireless networking between his new, his old, and his notebook computers, all of my guinea pigs reported successful results after running the XP automatic configuration tool. Two reported that they were able to secure Win98 computers by following the directions and downloading software available through the Web site.
As a technically savvy user, I can find some flaws with some of the information offered on the Protect your PC Web site, but for the average home user looking for a basic security configuration, the site has much to offer. Don't forget that it helps alleviate the friend-and-family-support headache, too.