Category 1 - Home user with Dial-up
If you fall under Category 1, you have a little to worry about, but not much. There is a great deal of paranoia associated with using the Internet, and rightfully so - being exposed to virus software that can invade your system and either wreak havoc with it, or abscond with personal information such as your credit card info, personal address and so on; however, since you are only on a dial-up connection, you aren't as big and as tempting a target as you would be if you fell under Categories 2 and 3 - these are very tempting to the Internet hacker, not because they can get more information but rather that they can USE your system for other, more nefarious activities (more on that later).
To protect yourself from Internet Abuse, here are several tips that I've used and given my friends and customers alike - they haven't failed yet.
A Personal Firewall is a piece of software that monitors your Internet connection and blocks access to your system from "questionable" activity. Networking software was originally designed to allow for the easy and nearly seamless sharing of information between systems in an office environment; consequently, when the Internet gained popularity and Network software was extended to use the Internet, many (sometimes very glaring) holes were found to exist in that Networking software that would have easily allowed other users to take control of another user's system, snoop through files and even go as far as destroying software and removing important files. Software patches that have been released over the years have closed many of those "security holes", but with the growing complexity of software and Operating Systems today it's becoming virtually impossible to keep-up with the changes.
To describe what a "Firewall" is, think of the most common use of the term (most terms like "firewall" were taken from other descriptions of things in the physical world that achieved similar results) - in a home or a car you have a "firewall" to prevent the spread of fire from one place to another. In a car, the firewall separates the passenger compartment from the engine. In a house, a firewall prevents the spread of fire from, say, the garage to the family room. A "Firewall" as used on the Internet prevents unwanted or dangerous messages from getting to your Operating System.
For a recommendation for a Personal Firewall for your Windows PC, I would heartilly recommend the following product:
ZoneAlarm - ZoneLabs - ZoneAlarm is acclaimed and praised by many in the Industry as being the best Personal Firewall product available, and I'd have to agree with them - I've been using it for 3 years and have yet to experience a single break-in or compromise of my system's security. The thing that makes ZoneAlarm different and sets it above the rest of the software-based Firewall programs is that it is failry easy to set-up, visually alerts you to possible attempts by software to perform functions that are key-signs of hacking activities against or on your system.
Another plus that ZoneAlarm gives you is the ability to check your incoming email and block viruses included as email attachments, therefore giving you an extra layer of protection.
Forbes had an interesting article about ZoneAlarm - you can read it here
ZoneAlarm comes in three varieties - the "Freeware" version is adequate for most home/dial-up users and, of course, is FREE. ZoneAlarm Pro has more features, but we feel that the "freeware" package is adequate for most dial-up users.
Computer viruses have been an on-going problem for a long time, and any computer user who does not have an Antivirus solution on their system is simply asking for problems. Chances are that if you don't already have some sort of Antivirus software installed on your computer that it is already infected with at least 3 if not more viruses - especially if you are online alot.
Norton AntiVirus - Amongst the wide variety of Anti-Virus packages available is what I believe to be the best AV software around - Norton Anti-Virus from Symantec. Norton AntiVirus has always been one of the top-notch AV solutions for years and years, and as far as I am concerned, they're the best. You can purchase the current version of Norton AntiVirus at Costco for around US$30.00.
Ad-ware & Spy-ware
Ad-ware (software that pops-up Advertising windows on your system), Spy-ware (software that watches your activity on the Internet and on your computer and reports what it sees to the person who had it installed on your system) and other kinds of Mal-ware (short for "Malevolent Software") are new wrinkles in the effort to keep your computer free from abusive software; they have the ability to gain control of your computer and/or surreptitiously gather private information about you - such as Credit Card, Social Security, Bank Account and other such info - usually used for Identity Fraud. These are nasty and can be difficult to find, let alone remove. Thankfully, there are some software tools to help you beat-down on these ugly net-beasts.
Lavasoft Ad Aware - Ad Aware had the ability to remove Ad-ware, Spy-ware and most Mal-ware from your system. Amongst all of the Ad-ware removal tools available, Ad-Aware does the best job at removing these programs and associated files from your system. Ad-Aware will also check for "tracking cookies" that try to report your visits to websites back to Marketing companies as well as scan your System Registry to check for any questionable entries that might have been made by Ad-ware and Spy-ware packages.
Caveat Emptor: If you decide to use Ad-Aware on your system, be sure to get regular updates from them when you use this program - the number of new Mal-ware programs and variants grows daily, and the best way is to make sure that every time you run it that you check for new "signature" files ("signature files" are the files that AV and Ad-ware/Spy-ware removal tools use to identify these programs for removal - they work pretty much like a collection of "fingerprints" for these files and allow the software to specifically look for these signatures in suspected files)
Microsoft AntiSpyware - For Windows 2000, Windows 2003 Server and Windows XP Users, Microsoft has recently released a Beta of their "Microsoft AntiSpyware" - all in all a very promising product. Since it is a Beta release, (The term "Beta" in software refers to software released to public or a private list of selected customers and users to test the software in public use before the product is actually released. Since most "Beta" software programs are not feature-complete, there are chances that they will not work properly or might be missing important features. and are hence not usually representative of the final product). I've been using this software since it was first put into public Beta testing, and it does a fairly good job. One nice feature is that it will warn you when something is attemtping to do something on your system that it believes is an attempt to install or do Adware/Spyware/Malware-like functions in real-time, giving you the chance to block those actions at the precice moment that these programs are trying to perform them. It's not perfect, and I would not try to use this as your only defense against Spyware.Now, on to Category 2!