Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Handiham World for 17 December 2008

Welcome to Handiham World!

Guy shaking fist at dead computer

WA0TDA: Internet security becomes a ham radio topic

Yes, I know. Computers are taking over the world, including ham radio, right?

15 years ago, there were still plenty of hams mightily resistant to the idea of a computer in the ham shack. Each year, I saw more and more computer equipment showing up at hamfests. There were complaints that the hamfests were nothing but computers anymore!

Today there are few holdouts who still don't have computers, especially ham shack computers. Heck, many of us have multiple ham shack computers, often running different operating systems. They control our radios, do our logging, and act as digital mode input and output devices. They make EchoLink and IRLP possible. They can give a digital transfusion to a cranky HT that's lost its memories. In short, they have become essential for most of us, and even the most reluctant computer user will have to admit that an Internet computer in the shack is essential for callsign lookup!

So, like any other piece of ham gear, the shack computer sometimes has its problems. It's really the only piece of gear in the shack that can be damaged by malicious intrusions via the Internet, and because so many ham radio operators are exposed to this danger, radio clubs are beginning to take notice and offer their members some help. Why, just today Microsoft is set to release a vital security update for the Internet Explorer browser. Without the update, an unsuspecting user could risk having their computer hijacked just by visiting a website. Worse yet, the owner of the website may not know that their site is infected. Then there is email spam. This morning I received multiple messages from "Hallmark Cards" containing zip file attachments. Of course as a savvy user I know that Hallmark did not send these messages, and the attached files were harmful viruses designed to take over my computer and steal personal data.

How can your ham club help its members to avoid becoming victims? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Form a computer or Internet Technology committee. Members of the committee can be "go-to" people if anyone in the club has a question.
  2. Consider having a club presentation on Internet Security. If a club member cannot present, try getting an expert from outside the club.
  3. If your club owns an email distribution list, be sure that it is protected from spammers. Open lists are a disaster waiting to happen!
  4. Extend your club's Elmering program to computers, at least the ones that will be used in the ham shack. Members who are new to computing may not know the basics of setting up their computers with firewalls and antivirus software.
  5. Stay informed! Nothing changes as fast as the world of computing technology, so posting relevant stories on your club's website may be in order.

Now, have I got you worried about today's Internet Explorer security patch? Read about it on the BBC website, in a story entitled "Microsoft plans quick fix for IE". Microsoft is due to issue a patch to fix a security flaw believed to have affected as many as 10,000 websites.

For your Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Center Handiham Manager