The Tech Herald

Netbooks pose security risk by exposing users to risks - FUD

by Steve Ragan - Mar 4 2009, 22:40

Netbooks are not insecure, and you are not at risk if you take some basic steps.(IMG:focusmag.co.uk)

False, FUD, and mind blowing. Those words come to mind when you read a Reuters wire report based on comments by a Symantec marketing manager and two other experts. The overall theme of the article is that Netbooks - due to lack of sophistication, the simple no-frills design, and the lack of raw computing power -leave users at risk from the problems online. This is bad information for the normal Netbook user, and out of all the experts consulted for the article, Symantec knows better.

On Tuesday, the wire service from Reuters ran a story titled, “Notebooks may offer hackers private data gateway.” Now the title is misleading, they talk about Netbooks not Notebooks. That aside, the context of the article is what you can clearly mark as FUD.

According to the article, Netbooks, which are the small affordable alternatives to a Notebook (laptop), designed for simple Internet usage and minor application (document editing) processing, are great. Yet, because of their, “no-frills nature, combined with low computing power and relative lack of sophistication could turn Netbook users into easy prey for hackers, analysts warn.”

According to Sam Yen, greater China marketing manager at anti-virus software maker Symantec, “The Internet is full of dangers, regardless of what computer you are using. But keeping in mind that the Netbook is primarily used to surf the Internet, those dangers are possibly multiplied many-fold, especially if there is no anti-virus software installed in the machine.”

So does he really mean to say that the lack of an OEM (where security software comes pre-installed on the computer when you purchase it) deal between Symantec and Netbook manufacturers means people are at risk?

Netbooks, unless you install something else, come with Windows XP Home Edition. Not the fan favorite when it comes to XP, but it does the job and works well on the hardware. Most of the Netbooks come with about 1GB of memory, and for the small size pack a punch in the CPU power department.

When it comes to security, anti-Virus applications do not instantly mean you are secure. The Reuters article completely misses this, and neither the Symantec comments, Gartner comments, or the comments from the Daiwa Institute of Research, come close to covering security on a Netbook.

While Symantec does have some OEM deals in place in the Netbook market, simply installing anti-Virus software is not enough. “Price tags as low as $300 mean that Netbooks often lack such standard gear as firewalls and other anti-virus software typically found in other computers, leaving them highly vulnerable to attacks,” reported the article.

What about operating system patches? While not the best firewall in the world, if used properly, the XP Firewall would help layer security on a Netbook. There is tons of information available on how to make the XP Firewall work.

Why is there no mention of any initiatives aimed at educating all these Netbook users, branded as “relative Internet newcomers”?

When surfing the Web on a Netbook, there is Internet Explorer, but also Firefox and Opera as well. Each browser is loaded with features that will help protect from online threats.

“Low computing power also means savvy Netbook users may shut down critical security programs to boost speed,” added the article.

Again, this is FUD. Most “savvy” Netbook users know that a Netbook is not a replacement for a Notebook (laptop) and never attempt to use it as one. Not to mention that most “savvy” Netbook users take advantage of CPU and RAM saving applications such as those offered by PortableApps.com.

"It's a Catch-22 situation," Gartner analyst Lillian Tay told Reuters. "If you're running too many security programs at the same time, it slows the computer down. Don't run any, and you are at risk."

To break it down into segments, here is how to use a Netbook and remain safe online.

1. Make sure that Windows XP Home is constantly updated with the latest patches by using the Windows Update feature. The Windows XP Firewall is not the best Firewall alternative in the world. If you were on a Notebook (laptop) then it would be recommended that you use something else. However, in this case, the XP Firewall is just fine. To learn how to use the XP Firewall, read this article from Microsoft.

2. To save on CPU and RAM usage when it comes to applications, one viable set of tools comes from PortableApps.com. The following applications will help you get the most out of a Netbook.

Productivity applications:

Notepad ++
GIMP Portable
FileZilla FTP
Putty (If you need SSH access)
Open Office Portable or AbiWord (Document processing)
PeaZip

Internet Usage (Alternatives to Internet Explorer)

Firefox Portable
Thunderbird Portable
(Assuming you don’t use Outlook Express or Webmail)

Security:

ClamWin Portable
(This is anti-Virus protection. You can also install AVG Free)

3. When you update the operating system (see item 1), remember to check for updates on each of the installed Portable applications. Firefox, and Thunderbird will offer updates to you, and most of the others are updated on a regular basis.

4. The last bit of advice to get the most out of a Netbook, and use it securely is to remember what it is for. Netbooks are not ideal for a full time computer or Notebook replacement. They are designed for quick Internet access on the go, with a few extra tools to help you should you need them. When you try to do too much on a Netbook, you will notice sluggish performance, and a serious lack of features.

Yet, if you use it to snap off a quick email, read a few articles online, edit a internal memo or other document while relaxing at the beach, or just use it as a way to monitor report servers by watching TOP (Linux tool used on Web servers), then you will see a good deal of value to owning one.

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