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23th June 1997
Security on the Net - impossible?
Last week was bad news for anyone worried about security on the Internet.

To kick things off, it was revealed that most versions of Netscape's browser were susceptible to attack by the operators of unscrupulous Web sites. Netscape tried to play down the risk by saying that anyone attempting to exploit the hole would have to know the name and location of any file they wanted to retrieve from the user's machine. Unfortunately, there are quite a few very important details (such as encrypted passwords) that are almost always stored in the same location and with the same filename on a number of systems.

Then it was discovered (much to Microsoft's embarrassment) that there's another gaping hole in their Internet Information Server (IIS) which allows any half-brained hacker to bring any NT-based Web server using this software to its knees.

And... just when you thought things couldn't get any worse... a group of avid enthusiasts proved that they could break the 56bit encryption system in a very short space of time.

Burn that modem?
So what do we do? Burn our modems, never turn our computers back on? Remove all sensitive data from our hard drives before logging on?

Well I guess if you're really paranoid you'll make sure that you only store really important or sensitive information on removable disks (floppies or ZIP disks) and that all your other files are regularly backed up.

Simple precautions such as this can make life more than safe enough for even the most nervous surfer. You can't eliminate the threat but you can immunise yourself against any serious effects.

take steps
did you know?
But what about my credit card?
While the banks are busy trialing a number of security systems designed to handle on-line commerce, what they seem none too keen to remind you is that there's really no risk (to you) associated with using your Credit Card to buy things over the Net.

Check your Credit Card contract and you'll see that as a cardholder, you're indemnified against fraud in the event that your card is stolen. In some cases there might be a "maximum liability" on your part of around $50 - but given the benefits of Net shopping you're likely to save more than that the first time you buy a couple of books from Amazon.com.

If someone intercepts your credit card details as they fly across the Net and then uses that information to fraudulently purchase goods then it's the seller of those goods who carries the loss - not you

What's often forgotten in all this talk of secure transactions on the Net is that it requires a degree of skill, knowledge and technical sophistication to break any code. When you hand your details to a Web site that uses a "Secure Server" it is protected by a system that is not trivial to break. Sure it can be done (as shown this week), but there are very few "spotty nosed youths" with the resources to do so.

Bricks - a bigger threat!
Yes, it's true, a brick through the window probably poses a far greater security threat to the average Net user than any software flaws or hardened hacker might.

Given the current rates of burglary in New Zealand, and the attractiveness of computers as a target you're far more likely to lose important data or have your system rendered inoperative by some street-kid with a brick than you are from any Net-based threat.

Fortunately, the simple steps I outlined earlier are just as effective in preventing data loss or theft by "old fashioned" methods as they are against high-tech hackers.

Hands up all those who could restore all their important data from backups if their hard disk was reformatted right now...

Hands up all those who would be embarrassed if the contents of their computer's hard disk fell into the wrong hands...

Is it time you implemented some low-tech protection against such events? A Zip drive and/or good backup software is cheap insurance against such a loss.

look out for low-tech hackers
How do they do that?
How can someone have the domain name www.co.nz or www.net.nz, where's the third level name?

Aren't we used to seeing something between the 'www' and the '.co.nz'?

It's pretty straight forward when you think about it - but can YOU work out how the owners of these names did it?

Answers next week for those that are stumped.

I Can't Believe It's True!
I'm probably one of the worst spellars <grin> in the world (thank goodness for spell-checkers), however I usually get my name spelt right and I always try to double check the keywords I use when setting up the META tags on a Web page so that it will be indexed correctly by the search engines.

Once you've loaded the page below, use the VIEW - SOURCE function of your browser to check out the contents of the KEYWORDS meta tag. I hope they're going to do better with the newspaper when it goes online!

What was my name again?

No.. don't write and tell me about all my typos and spelling mistakes :-)


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