Christmas is coming, and while the home computing goose isnt as fat as it used to be, there will still be plenty of new Compaqs and iMacs under the tree. That means even more newbie Internet users who will be unwitting disease vectors for the next Nimda variant that comes down the wire. Thats right, your dear, sweet mom and your eccentric Uncle Nestor are now members of the single greatest threat to Internet security: home users.
This should come as no surprise. The last few years have seen a proliferation of powerful desktop machines with large disks, fast features and full-time Internet connections. These systems, with their insecure, out-of-the-box default installations, become sitting ducks for worms and viruses. And most home users lack even the rudimentary knowledge needed to properly administer their machines. So they end up infecting others machines, contributing to excessive traffic and denial-of-service attacks.
Compounding the problem is that most home users still have a long way to go in understanding that they have any personal responsibility for Internet security. ISPs have begun taking self-defense measures, such as cutting off service to users who have not patched or upgraded their home systems. Most ISPs now have acceptable-use policies that make it clear that users are ultimately responsible for all activity originating from their systems, including security breaches of their systems. But how many nontechnical home users understand what that entails?
Raising user awareness and providing useful security tools will help. The CERT Coordination Center, the SANS Institute and the FBI have all asked the technically competent (thats you) to reach out to help family and friends to secure their systems.
So, dear readers, this is where you come in. Get Uncle Nestor a personal firewall for Christmas—and configure it for him. Since all new PCs now come with Windows XP, you should be aware that XP Internet Connection Firewall screens only incoming traffic, not outgoing, and so does not provide any protection against worms, back doors or DDoS zombies. Install virus scanning software for your mother and show her how to update it regularly. Tell the whole family why you should never, ever reply to spam. Its not peace on Earth, but its a start.
Jody Patilla is a security consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.