1. Perry, William MA, RN

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The Internet has brought the spirit of global communication and collaboration to nurses and other healthcare professionals in ways never before thought possible. These resources are offered to expand your opportunities for discussion, reference, education, and research.


Depending on your point of view (or circumstances) the Internet can be a wonderful playground-an exciting research tool or a nasty neighborhood without any street lights. We are assailed by popup ads, spyware, virus-carrying e-mail messages, and reports of hijacked computer accounts. This past summer the computer technology press described viruses that target PDAs and cell phones.


There are a growing number of users connecting to hospital, education, and business networks from wireless devices. Facility-owned e-mail accounts for hospital personnel and students are common and represent a tremendous step forward in promoting communication and collaboration. Many access institutional resources from virtual private network connections giving them access to resources that would have previously required them to be on-site. All are potential routes for unwanted applications that may compromise performance of individual computers or of the network itself.


While not a widespread threat yet, you can take a look at the cell phone and PDA virus stories at eWeek (,1759,1614794,00.asp) and PCWorld (,aid,117278,00.asp).


Anything that can possibly attack your home computer poses a potential risk to institutional networks as well. E-mail is the first thing that comes to my mind. It's both the greatest Internet application of all time and the greatest vehicle for mischievous software ever devised. Michael Horowitz is a programmer, Webmaster, and teacher who has a great variety of examples on his "Examples of Bad Email Messages" page at ( He teaches a "Defensive Computing Course" at Hunter College in New York.


The Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute published "Home Computer Security" in 2002 and is located at It lists 9 tasks users can do to protect their home computer and concentrates on antivirus software and firewalls.


Antivirus and firewall protection doesn't have to be a costly endeavor suitable only for the technologically inclined. "The Security Tango" ( is filled with instructions and links for software protection as well as cleaning out unwanted programs already in residence. From the Web site:


The Security Tango is my name for the dance you have to do every time you want to assure yourself that your computer is free of viruses, spyware, keystroke loggers, backdoors, trojans, and other forms of malware. It's something you need to do regularly and often-daily is not too often!! The simple act of getting on the Internet and downloading email or going to a Web page can expose your computer to malicious crackers who would love to take over your machine for their own use.


What is spyware? The Webopedia from ( defines it as


Any software that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes. Spyware applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from the Internet; however, it should be noted that the majority of shareware and freeware applications do not come with spyware. Once installed, the spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses and even passwords and credit card numbers.


There are a couple of free (and safe) applications you can download for removing these unwanted residents. Spybot ( and Ad-Aware ( scan your computer for programs that may be storing or transmitting information, or both, without your knowledge and consent. Ad-Aware is free for personal use, Spybot is free for all.


There are free antivirus programs as well. AVG Anti-Virus ( is a European product with a great reputation. Avast!! Home Edition ( is another fine product available as a free download. Panda Software (, Trend Micro (, and McAfee ( offer free online virus scanning.


Looking for a firewall? A software firewall monitors your computer activity for applications that try and access the Internet and asks you if you want to allow it to do so. Zone Alarm (, Agnitium Outpost (, and Sygate Personal Firewall ( are all free and safe to download for personal use.


Keep the Internet wonderful and exciting for you. Turn on a few lights, be safe, and keep the bad guys away.