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February 2000, Week 4 -- Katie, Bar the Door.

  WatchGuard SOHO

   This is a bandwagon business. A few hacker attacks and everybody's out there selling security. Could be a good thing.

Fire!

   "Watchguard SOHO" is a bright red box for the "SOHO" market of small offices, home offices. In this case, they are defining "small office" as any place running up to 50 computers. Larger versions of this box can handle up to 5,000 computers. All sizes interconnect.

   The SOHO box works with Windows, Macintosh and Unix computers and provides networking, Internet sharing and what's called "firewall" security. A firewall is a defensive wall that prohibits outside computers from making direct contact with the computers behind it. Initial contact is screened by software and hardware. In practice, the screening is so fast it is not noticeable to the users.

 

   Firewalls are often not enough, and the level of security beyond that is called "VPN" (virtual private network). It means that everyone in the network can communicate with each other without interference, but anyone connecting from outside the network must be authenticated, either by code or a live operator.

 

   Prices start at $449 for the Watchguard SOHO described above, up to $12,000 for corporate size systems; no software required. You don't have to buy any equipment if you don't want to, however. Some Internet Services provide their own firewall protection for a monthly or annual fee. Ask about yours.

 

   Information on the Watchguard Firebox protection devices is available by phone at 206-521-8340; web: www.watchguard.com.

 

Black Ice

   The highly acclaimed software "BlackIce" can provide a low-cost and effective firewall for single PCs and small businesses. The program is just $40, works with Windows, and has received numerous awards. It can be downloaded from the company's web site: www.netice.com.

   This is the most highly regarded program in the field and is considered something of a standard. The main difference between this and the type of box from Watchguard is that a network would require installation in every computer in the loop; if one is left open, all are open.

 

   The highest intrusion risk is for computers that are connected to cable modems and so-called DSL, or Digital Subscriber Lines. These systems are always on and always connected. In addition the user has a single connection address with system, making it easy to target.

 

Free protection

 

   You can get free firewall software from ZoneLabs, at www.zonelabs.com. It's a fast download.

 

   We tried it out recently, testing it with a series of firewall test probes you can use at www.grc.com. This is the site for Gibson Research Corporation, owned by Steve Gibson. Gibson is famous in the business as the inventor of the light pen many years ago. This became the model for the touch sensitive pens now used with graphics tablets.

 

   Passing over that historical footnote, test probes from GRC indicated there was no computer there when attempts were made to access it. That's good. Remember, ZoneLabs firewall is for a single PC only.

 

A clean system is a good system

 Fix-It Utilities 2000

 

   There are different kinds of security, and maybe the most important is keeping the system running well. So here are some utilities and services to that end.

   Ontrack's "Fix-It Utilities 2000" is everybody's "editor's choice" selection for best general clean-up utility for Windows 95/98 and NT. This used to be published under the Mijenix label, but was recently merged with OnTrack. Run it on any system and it comes up with hundreds of broken registry links, finds orphan programs and files and speeds up the system. Street price is around $50.

 

   It sounds like a cure-all but it isn't, it's just better than the other general utility packages around. In practice I've had problems occur after running this and other cleanup utilities. The message is "be careful."

   OnTrack phone: 800-872-2599 or 612-937-5161; web: www.ontrack.com.

   NOTE: Two web sites that might help with sticky problems are www.pcsupport.com  and www.nowonder.com. NoWonder is best at common problems encountered with common software, PCsupport for more serious problems.

 

Internuts

-- www.webmd.com A terrific medical web site. Can be used by lay people and doctors. More information than anything else we've tried.

-- www.bluelight.com Another site offering free Internet connection service and free e-mail. Looks okay.

 

-- www.insidertrader.com Information on insider trading in individual stocks and by industry groups. Very thorough. Many people are not aware that U.S.law requires officers and large shareholders of publicly traded companies to file statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission when they buy and sell shares in their own company.

 

-- www.ipolockup.com This tells you when the lockup period ends for new stock issues. The "lockup" is an agreement between the company and the underwriter of the stock issue that shareholders of the company won't sell their stock for a given period, typically six months. When that lockup period ends there is almost always a flood of stock that comes out for sale, usually forcing the price of the company's shares down.

-- www.efit.com Tons of information on shaping up and losing tons of weight. If you scan in a picture of yourself, the software will modify it to show you how you would look after losing weight.

-- www.freeworksheets.com A good source for education guides and worksheets. Recent national test results indicate that children taught at home score higher than those attending regular school classes.

 

NOTE: Readers can search more than three years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.