Spam, Antivirus and Content Filtering
Mark Vening has been writing his computer corner for the InSite newsletter, distributed by Stephe Mayers for the YWAMer's in Western Europe.
This page was originally based on a compilation of those articles, as they are relevant for a wider audience, and are now being updated as technologies develop.
Spam: not the 63 year old delicious chopped pork and ham meat product (see here for that: http://www.spam-uk.com/) - but that annoying set of email messages that we get every morning! What can be done about it? Many of us simply try and set up Outlook rules or rely on the inbuilt Junk filter. But what about those us who use Outlook Express, or other email clients (with no inbuilt Junk filter) or perhaps want something a bit more robust and configurable? There are two solutions I want to recommend.
- The first is an excellent (free) product that will handle one email account - and handle it extremely well. Check out Mailwasher at http://www.mailwasher.net/ to see what is on offer. One particularly nice feature is that spam to your account will 'bounce' meaning that the spammer will think there is actually no real address and, it is hoped, drop you off their list. For those who have multiple email accounts you could simply switch to the Pro product (which is not overpriced at $37) but I want to suggest another product - Qurb.
- Qurb: This extremely good piece of software, available from http://www.qurb.com , is a final solution to spam. It is usable 'straight out of the box' or is as configurable as any techno-geek could desire. Priced at $29.95 this product intelligently scans your emails and handily puts all the junk into one folder ready for you to review at your leisure. Two further nice features are an instantaneous search of all your Outlook data (ever lost an email?) and a handy RSS feeder actually built into Outlook.
I have personally used Qurb for over 2 years and it is an indispensable part of my armoury against spam - and with 225 in one day last week I am relying on it more and more!
(Note: Qurb was bought by Computer Associates in 2006, and the product is now rebranded as 'CA Anti-Spam'. It is the same product under the hood, price unchanged, and is still winning all the awards for excellent anti-spam methodologies.)
- The Thunderbird client from Mozilla is an excellent email program with very good spam filtering built in. It has great support for multiple spell checkers in different languages and a good range of useful plug ins.
Legal note: At least in Germany the employer (i.e. YWAM) may not filter out spam mails without the consent of the employee (i.e. staff). So do not install a base-wide Spam-filter-solution (unless everybody signs an agreement), rather recommend to use the programs mentioned in this article on their computers. It is okay, though, if Spam is only marked as such (adding [SPAM] to the subject line) or moved to a separate directory.
(See also Panda Cloud as it is free for non-profit use too: http://www.cloudantivirus.com/en/#free-antivirus-download)
More than one person has asked about AVG (the anti-virus people) stopping their support for personal machines at the end of January and asking for alternatives. In actual fact, AVG have only upgraded their freeware version from 7.1 to 7.5. They don't make the upgrade straightforward though! Nevertheless, if you visit http://free.grisoft.com and follow the links, you should be able to successfully download the new (and improved and VISTA ready) version.
NOTE the free version is for personal use only and must not be installed onto machines that YWAM own, however AVG price their full product cheaply and you pay for two years. You can apply for a charity discount too in most cases.
For a completely free solution you might investigate [ClamWin http://www.clamwin.com] which is a Windows anti-virus scanner based on the free and open source ClamAV product. ClamWin is a lot more basic but if you run it regularly it will be effective. You can also get the Unix version from http://www.clamav.org which will scan any files you might have going in and out of a mail server and also on a files shares.
Why you should install an Anti-Virus as well as security updates: Why Updates are So Important: About Cars And Bombs
Internet Content Filtering
Pretty much all of us already know the importance of ensuring we have a good anti-virus or anti-spyware program. But for those of us who follow the Lord, the biggest threat to our security on the www is more likely to be pornography in all its forms - sex, hate, violence and so on. Stephe shared about the accountability site "x3watch" last time and it prompted me to think about a couple of further solutions to complement this excellent tool.
The last product is an accountability tool, designed for parents and children, but could easily be used in YWAM accountability groups. http://www.antichildporn.org/reveal.html checks your hard drive for pictures, text - in fact anything that could be construed as porn, hate, etc. It takes about 5 minutes to scan your hard drive and you better believe it will find everything. It gives great advice on how to lovingly confront your children if you find anything - and I challenge each one of you to run this program in the presence of a trusted friend. It reminds me of when John Wesley formed his bands in 18th Century England where he made everyone confess their sins before each other! You could 'drop in' on a friend brandishing a copy of Reveal on your USB key and offer them a '5 min challenge'. That would keep us humble!
I have also been asked again about reliable internet filtering software that goes beyond just filtering the internet. As many of us know, we and our children use other internet programs like MSN, P2P or Newsreaders, for example. Whilst I still heartily recommend K9 web protection (http://www.k9webprotection.com/) as an excellent filter, let me draw your attention to two others.
Naomi (named after the father who didn't want his daughter to be exposed to obscene stuff on the internet) is an excellent freeware program that doesn't compare the internet to a list of banned sites. Instead it actively tracks what is being sent and acts accordingly. Because of this method of operation, it can be used to monitor not just web browsing, but also MSN chats, Newsreader requests and so on. Available from http://www.radiance.m6.net/ it is not being developed further, but remains very effective and is a great supplement to K9. One great add-in for Naomi, is a myspace plugin, which (if you have a teenager in the house) is going to be their number one site for surfing. Although a great space for an online community, there is some real JUNK there, and this plugin for Naomi can really help here.
Lastly, many youngsters are into P2P or torrent downloads and some of the stuff out there is just UNBELIEVABLE! Blocking this has been traditionally the role of the ISP, but some P2P can be very useful for legitimate purposes. Enter File Sharing Sentinel (http://www.akidthaine.com/) which can be used to protect yourself here. It is freeware, password protected and allows you control of what your family downloads.
One more option, useful for networks is DansGuardian. Like Naomi this program doesn't rely on a list of banned websites but scans the text for banned words / expressions. This software needs to be installed on a server on the network and not on your computer and works together with a (transparent)proxyserver which in turn will make the internet feel faster to surf. The biggest advantage for this is that it doesn't need to be installed on every computer on your base and no-one can turn it of to get around it quickly... It is free software under some circumstances (mainly your base IT guy needs to be a volunteer)
Spyware and Malware
All of us know that we need to protect ourselves from pc virus infections, find a way to deal with Spam email and try and filter our internet connections from some of the horrors out there in cyberspace. But what about one other serious and potentially harmful way our computers are attacked? I am talking about Spyware and Malware.
Spyware is, as the name suggests, a software programme that 'spies' on you. Most of the time, this software tries to track your internet habits (where you surf, what you look at and so on) and then sells that information, plus your harvested email address onto the spam companies. This then gives a 'profile' to the spam companies who try and bombard you with their 'targetted' offers hoping to entice you to spend cash. Spyware relies on the fact that you don't know it is there and so can often go unnoticed for a long time on your pc. Only when large amounts of spyware programmes are competing for your precious bandwidth and CPU time does your pc seem 'a bit slow' and you realise you have a problem.
Malware - or malicious software - is a little more sinister as it covers a spectrum of programmes that try and use your computer (and its internet connection) for nefarious purposes. The most common is where your computer becomes an unofficial email sending machine. In this case, and unbeknownst to you, a spam mail is covertly sent to your pc to then be sent on hundreds (or even thousands) of times as spam without you even knowing! This helps hide the tracks of the spammers as well as providing them with free internet access.
Many programmes exist to help deal with these problems, but unfortunately, many are now spy- or malware in their own right, masquerading as anti-spy/malware solutions! Dodgy lot! But here are three that you can really trust.
- The Advanced yet Easy to Use Solution: AdAware This great free program is a breeze to use and allows full backups of whatever it does so that you can reverse any mistakes. I run it once a month.
- The One-Click Solution: Windows Defender This is a free program from Microsoft which attempts to prevent spy- and malware infections. It also tries to deal with any infections.
- The More Geeky Solution: Spybot This is the crème de la crème of anti-spy/malware programmes. Again, free and totally reversible in what is does, this is a great way to deal with those harder infections or where you need more access to just what it will do. BEWARE! This program, whilst pretty easy to use, has two flavours - Basic and Advanced. Do NOT use the advanced unless you know what you are doing. You could mangle your operating system if you go here without a bit of understanding. Think of it as a sharp sword that you wouldn't give to children to play with, but in the hands of a warrior is terribly effective.
- Buy a Mac! Whilst there are literally tens of thousands of virus/spyware/malware programmes out there, for Macs, the total number of viruses in the wild is not too high. You can, however, install software that turns out to be Spyware.
- Run Linux - Similar to Mac, Linux is more immune to viruses. Recommended for the more technical users, or for those who use only basic internet/office things.