The Moulton Company 2003 Publications

Technology training for the 21st Century

How Much Protection Is Enough?

The scourge of PCs and the Internet is hackers. Just who are these hackers? They are computer programmer types, relatively young men mostly, that attend the DEFCON conference in Las Vegas to show their software prowess by playing games like capture the flag (CTF Root Fu) and SPOT THE FED. They share software and Windows hacking secrets. These Windows hacking secrets permit them to hack into your desktop PC at home or work. We know they are just lurking out there!

There is a solution. It is known as a firewall. There are corporate firewalls and personal firewalls. Firewalls block unauthorized access to a PC or a network from the Internet. They stop hackers from probing your PCs ports. Just how vulnerable you are to hacking can be determined by having your ports probed by shields up at the web site. Firewalls use Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) to examine the packets entering your PC or Network from the Internet. Any packets that were not invited are blocked. Packets invited by a web browser surfing the web are permitted to pass. PING and TRACERT are Windows commands that send out packets to verify the existence of specific Internet addresses (IP addresses) or sites. If you open a Window's command prompt (Select RUN then type COMMAND for Windows 9x or CMD for Windows 2000/XP) and type in PING, unsolicited packets are send to my web site. It in turn responds to the PINGs telling you that it exists and is active. Hackers use techniques to find PCs and networks.

Large corporate networks and commercial web sites are well known and sometimes targets for hackers, like the hacker Swedes that defaced the CIA web site several years back. What is the risk for the small business owner and home PC user that hackers would invade their network or PC? In my case my web site is not even on my network, but rather hosted by my ISP MD Connect ( They are experts at securing my web site from hacking. The answer is that the risk is very, very low that a small business network or home PC would be invaded by any hacker. Here is my point; many people purchase Personal Firewall Software from Norton's, McAfee's or Zone Alarm to protect them from the apparent hacker threat when it is not really needed. Further, such software can often mess up a PC because it monitors internal PC activity to see if any illicit program entered your PC and is sending private information across the Internet to a nasty hacker. Sending such information is blocked and the PC can be shut down from accessing the Internet if certain activities occur. I have had to service one home PC that was locked in this way and had its display and printer drivers messed up.

McAfee Virus Scan 7.0, Panda Antivirus Platinum 7.0, and PC-cillin 2003 virus scanning packages incorporate firewall functions as well as prevent Trojan horse and other malicious software (Malware) from entering your PC. Norton's Antivirus 2003 does not include a firewall function. In addition Windows XP software has firewall functionality with Stateful Packet Inspection built into it that can be activated by the PC user. When a PC or small business is connected to the Internet through DSL or a Cable modem and a router is installed, the router usually provides the firewall function that is sufficient to protect most small networks. Such firewall protection may need to be configured and activated in the router. This protection is sufficient (as long as the virus scanning software is maintained) to prevent a hacker from installing malware on your PC.

One final thought. The number of hackers is 100,000 times smaller than the number of PC and networks attached to the Internet. Home PCs and small business networks are small fish in a very big school of fish. The chance of a hacker selecting your PC or network to hack is less than that of being struck by lightening. Your odds of being hacked only improve when you visit and download hacking software from hacker sites. (You must prove yourself worthy to be a hacker).

How much protection is enough? In my opinion there is little need to install additional personal firewall software on a PC, unless you are going to visit hacker web sites. So save yourself some money.

(c) 2003 Copyright P. D. Moulton. All rights reserved.

This article is pending publication in the Business Monthly.

Pete Moulton is the nerd at Dial-A-Nerd services and The Moulton Company. He has worked with PCs since 1981 and networks since 1985. Pete has authored the Prentice-Hall books: "A+ Certification and PC Repair Guide", "The Telecommunications Survival Guide", and "SOHO Networking". Contact Dial-A-Nerd services and The Moulton Company at 410 988-9294 or visit the web sites or