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Testing Your Online Security

Being a responsible, security conscious computer user, you have firewall software protecting your machine from unwanted intruders right? Well that's great, but how do you know if the firewall is actually doing its job? Some firewall software is not all that easy to set up. How can you be sure that you have the software configured to effectively protect your system?

A good way to find out if your system is really as secure as you'd like it to be is to request an online security test. A number of sites offer security tests free of charge. Three testing sites that I personally know and trust are listed below.

Shields Up!
This site is run by Steve Gibson, a well-known and respected Internet personage. There is a lot of good security information available on the site as well as the testing procedures and how to use them. The site resonates with Mr Gibson's unique and flamboyant communication style.
The scans on the site are labelled "Privacy" and "Security". They are simple to use and very fast. A good way to get a quick heads up on the state of your computer's security. The site also has a lot of information and links about security issues.

DSL Reports
Another popular site that allows you to perform a port scan at the click of a button. After the scan is completed, a click of the "Results" button opens a page that reports on the health of your security setup.

All being well, these sites should generate a report that explains how secure your system is. If there are holes in your security, the reports will suggest ways of filling them. If I'm testing a computer's security, I usually take the time to request tests from at least two of the sites above. A second opinion is always good to have! The result to aim for is that your computer is operating in "stealth mode". That is, it is virtually invisible to intruders looking for an easy mark.

As I mentioned, there are a number of sites that offer security tests. However, some of these "tests" are completely bogus and are designed to scare users into purchasing software that they may not even need. One of the dirty little tricks that these sites employ is to make you think that the entire contents of your hard-drive is available for all to see. They do this by apparently displaying the contents of your hard-drive in your web browser. In reality, nobody but you can see your files. This trick is achieved by placing a script in the code of the website that simply opens your C drive in your browser. You can do this yourself by simply typing "C:" (without the quotes) in the address bar of your browser. Try it! It's actually a quite useful alternative method of manoeuvring through the files stored on your hard-drive.

Well, hopefully your computer manages to achieve a good report card. Of course, the scum who try to break into other peoples' computers are often very canny. No computer security system can claim to be totally foolproof. However, doing a little online testing can help you to ensure that your computer is as secure as possible.

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen