Q: I heard that not all new computers have all of the security protection that I need to protect me on the Internet. Is this true and if so, what do I need to do when I buy my next computer? — Dan
A: Before the Internet was such a major part of our computing lives, securing a new computer was not as time sensitive as it is today.
There are hundreds of malicious worms and Trojans scanning the Internet (with new ones being found almost daily) looking for un-secure computers that can be easily compromised. Various Internet security companies claim that an unprotected computer can be attacked in as little as 20 minutes of connecting to the Internet, even if the user never opens an e-mail or Web browser.
Most folks buying a new computer make the mistake of assuming that it has all of the most recent security measures installed.
All manufacturers do their best to ship a computer with the most recent security updates (also referred to as "patches"), but once it leaves the shipping docks there is no way to know how long it will be before a consumer starts to use it.
A computer purchased through a traditional retailer that has the typical distribution and supply chains can be anywhere from two to six months old by the time the consumer takes it home. It can be even older if the unit is a one-of-a-kind special, demo unit or from a retailer that specializes in discontinued products.
While this may not sound like a very long time, when you consider dozens of updates and patches can be released in any given month, it could mean that the "new" computer needs quite of bit of updating before it’s Internet safe.
Anti-virus and antispyware software as well as Windows updates are the most important items to have updated before connecting to the Internet.
Because the amount of time needed to completely secure your system will likely exceed the 20 minute mark, there are a few key items to keep in mind when updating a brand new computer.
The most vulnerable configuration of connecting to the Internet is when a computer is directly connected to a highspeed "always-on" connection such as DSL or a cable modem.
If you can, always connect a new computer to the Internet through a "router," which is a device that essentially hides your computer from the rest of the Internet. This will allow you to download all of the security updates behind a "firewall" that keeps the trolling worms and viruses out.
A safer method would be to work with a retailer that will perform all of the security updates for you before you take it home, as they will have a secure connection from which to do it.
And while they are at it, have them show you what you should be checking on a regular basis to ensure that you stay up-to-date on all the critical security items in your new system. Most security programs can automatically update themselves, but to play it safe you need to know how to make sure they are updated and also how to manually check to see if new updates are available.
- Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show Saturdays at noon on KTAR (620 AM). Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org