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How to be Safe and Secure on the Internet — Almost

updated: September 3, 2006

by John Krill

note: This helpful article assumes you are using Microsoft Windows XP: Home or Professional versions.

No one can be completly safe — no matter where or what they're doing. Getting on the Internet and browsing the Web using Internet Explorer or getting e-mail using Microsoft Outlook Express can be unsafe and insecure. But there are procedures you can follow that will make you much more safe and secure while you are on the Internet.

First: We are not going into detail on how you do some of the procedures we will recommend. For instance if we suggest you install a program we will not discuss how to get, install, or use that program. We only tell you were to find the product. The rest is up to you.

Second: Get a good book on Windows XP. Ask your friends what they bought or better yet steal theirs.

Here's what we recommend: Get ZoneAlarm and Ad-Aware installed on your computer. Create a user account with limited access. Setup Outlook Express to make is safer. Turn off Messenger if it isn't already disabled.


Zone Alarm is a firewall that can restrict data from entering and leaving your computer via the Internet. ZoneLabs has a freely downloadable version of ZoneAlarm. Get it, install it, and use it!

You may need to turn off Microsoft Windows XP's version of a firewall. It only restricts data from entering your computer but not leaving it. If it is on then turn it off before you install ZoneAlarm.

Quickly download the program and then install it offline. Once you have installed ZoneAlarm and you're using an account with limited access then you can go back on the Internet.

I recommend you get someone to help you with the initial running of ZoneAlarm. ZoneAlarm needs to know what programs can have access to the Internet. It can be confusing but you must get through it. You will be much safer once you do.

Ad-Aware [added to article 9/3/06]

This product will protect your computer from all forms of spyware. Spyware is usually done using your web browser and cookies to track you Web usage. The first time I ran Ad-Aware it found over 1200 useless cookies - many of them trackers. Now every time I get on the Internet I run Ad-Aware SE after signing off. (We still use dial-up service. We're to cheap to go to high-speed.) You could also run Ad-Aware manually while still online.

The free version of Ad-Aware cannot be used as a real-time tool. So in order to catch spyware on the fly you need to invest in the full version. We at Photoessayist would be using the full version now except for the pricing policy at Lavasoft. First they sell you a product at such and such a price and then you have to pay an additional fee to download the product. We can understand maybe a fee to get the CD, which they do have, but to download? No way. In short I found the pricing to be deceptive.

Ad-Aware is a product of Lavasoft.

Limited Access User Account

Some background information: When Windows XP is first installed there is only one account called Administrator. If you go to the Start button and the menu has the name Administrator at the top then you have never created other user accounts.

Now the wierd stuff about accounts. When you create your first account - other than Administrator - it will also have full access to your computer and the next time you log-on to your computer this new account you just created will be the only account listed. Lets say we call this account BOSS. This account will now be the administrator account.

If you haven't created this first account - then do it. And give it a password! Give all your accounts a password. If you are now saying to yourself, "I don't want to use passwords," Then stop now and forget about security. Go away and never bother me again. In fact you are probably a plague and dangerous just to be around. Don't ever e-mail me. Ever! You're walking death. Ugg!

Note: If you set Password age to zero you never have to change it. O.K. I'll explain how to do this. It's down at the bottom of this page.

You don't know how to create an account? Get a good Windows XP book. Didn't I already say that? Yea, I did.

So now you are logged on to the new administrator account. And it has a password? Good.

Now create another account and give it limited access. A good Windows XP book will show you how to create accounts and add passwords and give them limited access. Now log-off your new administrator account and log-on to your new limited access account.

When to use your limited access account?

All the time. In general whenever you are on the Internet you should be using only user accounts with limited access. Why?

Because while using a user account with limited access to the OS. No one, including you, can change anything involving the OS. That includes putting a virus on your computer. Now you get it? I hope so. This writer has never had a virus since he started using Windows XP. Never. Not once. That's zero viruses.

What are the restrictions to a limited user account?

You can't add or delete programs and hardware or change the OS while logged on to a limited user account. When was the last time you changed the OS? Right - you don't even know what I'm talking about. But this restriction is also why you should be using an account with limited access to the OS. And when you need to install a new program then disable Internet access while you're doing the install. If you have to be online during the install then do it quickly and then log-off and go back to your limited access account.

90% Safe

Using ZoneAlarm, Ad-Aware, and a limited access account is really all there is to it. Virus checkers - what about viruses? Virus checkers can only spot known problems. Usually the virus is installed before you can get updates. You will not need them if you have done what I have asked you to do plus two items involving Outlook Express. Spyware that use the browser will load their trackers to the local account so getting updates is important.

Fixing Outlook Express

One: Turn off the preview pane for e-mails. From the Outlook Express Menu Bar go to View -> Layout .... and make sure Show Preview Pane is unchecked.

Two: Never open e-mails with attachments. In case you didn't hear me: Never open e-mails with attachments. Got it? Ok. Now what did I say? Yea, I know, you know the person sending the e-mail. But are you absolutly positive that your friend's computer insn't infected? So don't do it. It isn't worth it. Never.

Where do viruses come from? They come as attachments to e-mail. That's why you never open e-mail with file attachments. And if you have the preview pane enabled then as soon as you highlight an e-mail from the list of e-mails it will open that e-mail in the preview pane along with attachments. So never, I repeat, never use the preview pane.

Yes, Microsoft has claimed to have fixed problems with Outlook Express and added features for checking attachments. Forget them. Remember you are the last bastion of your computer. Depending on others to check for viruses will only end in disaster.

Closing The Back Door

Conponent Services
figure 1
Messenger Properties
figure 2

If you are getting little window popups while on the Internet you need to disable Messenger. note: This is not the Instant Messenging program.

1. You need to be logged onto your administrator account.
2. From the Start button go to Programs >> System tools >> Administrative tools >> Conponent Services. (figure 1)
3. From the list on the left select Servies (Local)
From the list on the right select Messenger and double-click.
4. From the drop-down list for Start-up type: select Disable. (figure 2)
I also disabled Routing and Remote Access.
Close out everything and restart your computer.

Set Password to Last Forever

Local Security Policy
figure 3
Password Age
figure 4

When you install Windows XP the default length of time a password last before it has to be changed is 42 days. You can change this to never (0 days) or to whatever you want.

From the Start button select: All Programs >> Accessories >> Administrative Tools >> Local Security Policy.(figure 3) Under Account Policy select Password Policy. In the right-panel select the item you want to change, such as password age, (figure 4) and press Enter button.

That's All Folks!