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Malicious greetings

Also, use your bandwidth as you wish.

Q: Is there a virus that installs with a greeting card, and lets you see what another person is doing?

A: Between concerned spouses and suspicious bosses, I’m always surprised to learn just how much time and energy is spent trying to spy on other people. Spyware is certainly not a new concept, and there have been many notable instances where a piece of installed software sends information from your PC to another system without your knowledge or consent. This isn’t a virus in the traditional sense, but its stealthy nature makes it a real danger to the affected PC.

One type of tool that you’re describing is called Email PI. This tool is advertised specifically as spy software, and is intended to let one person “infect” another’s PC using a variety of e-mail attachments. The spyware installs secretly, then records and sends a wide range of information (such as passwords, chats, e-mails, Web sites visited, and other potentially sensitive information) to a designated recipient PC. Such software can also scan for particular keywords in Web addresses, e-mails, and chats-alerting the recipient almost immediately.

The real concern with Email PI and other similar software is that it’s marketed specifically as “spy software,” with no consideration given to the legality of such endeavors. For example, installing such spy software on your neighbor’s PC can carry serious consequences. Still, the software maker proudly announces the many ways in which the software can be invisibly and remotely installed, even through such an underhanded ruse as sending a greeting card.

While spouses and employers may see a certain twisted value in such spying, the potential for abuse is staggering. Consequently, there is also a growing number of utilities designed to identify and block spy software. One such tool is SpyCop. Similar to a virus checker, such “anti-spy” tools search the programs on your PC against a database of known spyware, allowing you to identify and block the operation of such programs.

Q: I’m setting up a home network. Since Internet routers allow multiple PCs to use the same cable/DSL connection, will an ISP have an issue with them?

A: Generally not. Remember that you’re paying an ISP in exchange for a certain amount of bandwidth at your IP address. The ISP typically doesn’t care whether there’s one PC or a hundred, as long as you’re only using one IP address, and not exceeding the bandwidth that you’re entitled to. An Internet router, such as a Linksys BEFSR41, allows “connection sharing” for up to four PCs connected in a small LAN configuration, yet sharing the same WAN (cable or DSL) connection. The Internet router uses your assigned IP address from the ISP. The available bandwidth is then divided among the PCs that need to communicate at any given time. For example, if only one PC needs to communicate, it can use the entire available bandwidth. If two PCs need to exchange data, the available bandwidth is split accordingly, and so on.

Take a look at your ISP’s Web site, and pay close attention to your Terms of Service agreement. If there are any prohibitions against connection sharing, they’ll be listed here. Otherwise, feel free to contact the ISP’s sales or support departments directly.

Q: I want to back up my important data. Should I use a second partition on my existing hard drive, or add a second drive?

A: No question, you should add a second hard drive. When you employ two partitions on one physical hard drive, you not only cut the drive’s capacity in half (assuming you make both partitions the same size), but you’ll lose BOTH partitions if the physical drive ever fails. That weakness will certainly compromise the integrity of your backup. A second hard drive (that’s at least as big as your first drive) will allow you to mirror the contents of your first drive using software like Norton Ghost or DriveCopy.

If you’re running a small business, or don’t want the hassle of backup software, you can install an ATAPI RAID card such as the Promise FastTrak TX2000 ATA RAID controller card for UDMA/133 drives. Simply install the PCI RAID controller, then connect your drives to the RAID controller ports for low-cost automatic RAID support. When one drive fails, the RAID controller will continue working off the backup drive without any intervention on your part.

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