Beware of security gap in Windows XP

Microsoft has taken the unusual step this week of releasing information on a security hole in Windows XP that it hasn’t fixed yet, so I am using my space to help secure your computer.

Microsoft has taken the unusual step this week of releasing information on a security hole in Windows XP that it hasn’t fixed yet, so I am using my space to help secure your computer.

First things first. Microsoft has acknowledged that a gaping hole in Windows can allow a malicious user to take over your PC. All you need to do is visit a hacked Web site using Internet Explorer to allow this to happen. Lovely, eh?

While Microsoft works on a patch, the company recommends interim steps to ward off hackers. You can get the fix for this very serious exploitation at http://tinyurl.com/derk5. (I shortened the Microsoft URL to make it easier to find.) I strongly recommend applying this fix to every Windows XP machine you have as soon as possible.

While you’re thinking about security, I strongly urge you to take a few other steps.

First, copy the contents of your “My Documents” folder to another hard drive. (I assume you have a flash drive, an external drive or even a DVD burner. Just do something to protect your data.)

Second, go to the “Start” menu and run “Windows update.” Let it run and install all of the “critical” updates. Your machine may have to reboot a few times. Microsoft may ask you to install Internet Explorer 8; if you have a home computer with 1 GB of RAM or more, go ahead; on a business computer I would not install it until told to by your IT department.

Finally, I assume you’ve installed an anti-virus product that is current and running. If so, run a full scan. (Most products are set to run a “quick” scan as to not annoy you.) If you do not have a product, go to http://free.avg.com and install the free version of AVG. (No, you do not need the paid version’s extra features; the free version for home use will meet your needs just fine.)

If you want to download the beta or test version of Microsoft’s new anti-virus and anti-spyware product, you can get it at microsoft.com/security—essentials/.

The bottom line: You must run an anti-virus product if you run Windows. As the saying goes, when you go online, you’re interfacing with every computer that computer has ever interfaced with. And you can’t do that without protection. If you have an Apple, I still think you’re fine when it comes to anti-virus for now. But if you run a Windows emulation product and you run Windows on your Apple; then you have to run anti-virus on Windows on your Apple (smile).

I also would go to the Microsoft Web site and get Windows Defender, the free anti-spyware product if you are running Windows XP. It is a decent anti-spyware product for the price. It already comes with Vista.

James Derk owns CyberDads, a computer-repair firm. E-mail him at jim@cyberdads.com.

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