The Norman Transcript

March 17, 2013

Building your computer security onion

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Come to the Norman Public Library March 26 at 6:30 p.m. and I will teach you how to build an onion; a computer security onion, that is. Call the library at 701-2697 to register for my free, one night only, computer security onion-building class.

Why would I teach you about onions when you really want to know about stopping computer viruses, safe online banking and hacker-proofing your life? The onion is an analogy I use in my class because effective computer safety and security is built like an onion, layer by layer. There is no single thing that you can do to make your computing life safe, so we build security onions.

The idea is that, if the Internet bad guys somehow succeed in peeling a layer off your computer security onion, they are immediately confronted with another layer to deal with. If they get past that layer, they are confronted with yet another layer, and so on. If you have enough good layers in place, the bad guys will eventually go away in search of easier, less-secure prey.

The onion I will teach you about has, at its core, the built-in protections that your computer provides, such as a firewall (Layer 1), and the ability to update your operating system, such as Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X (Layer 2). Many programs you use on your computer, such as word processors, accounting software and Internet utilities like Java, need important updates, too (Layer 3).

On top of the inner layers should be things like antivirus and antispyware programs. In “the old days” (like, six or seven years ago), I would use one program for antivirus protection, a different program to battle spyware, and yet a different program to deal with adware. These days, we use antimalware (MALicious softWARE) programs that cover all the bases and in my class, I will show you the best ones to use.

The next layers of your computer security onion deal more with behavior, rather than programs you’ll install. One critical behavior layer is the use of strong passcodes. I’ve decided to stop using the term “password;” I prefer “passcode” or “passphrase” because these security devices we use to access our email, bank and online shopping accounts should never, ever, never in a million years be straight-up “words.”

Most online accounts that end up being hacked become that way because people use crummy, weak passwords. The bad guys can hack “passWORDS” so fast it’s not even a little bit funny. You need to know how they do it, and how you can invent easy-to-use passphrases that will keep the bad guys at bay.

Other layers of your security onion should include things like secure email practices, using safe and updated browsers, recognizing scam messages, avoiding crooked websites, secure file deletion, safe wireless networking and avoiding bogus “fix-em-up” programs. Eventually, your computer security onion will be so smelly the Internet bad guys won’t be able to stand being around you.

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or

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