Is your PC ready (and safe!) for tax season?

Question

With all of the stories in the news lately about keylogging, what do I need to do before I start preparing tax returns on my computer? I don’t want to be a victim of identity theft!

- Gerald

Answer

This question was answered on March 2, 2006. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Keystroke logging (often called keylogging) was originally developed as a diagnostic tool most commonly used in the development of software and hardware products It can help developers debug code and improve the user experience by understanding exactly what was typed and when.

And just like every computer tool that has ever been developed for productive reasons, there is always someone looking to exploit the tool for malicious reasons Malicious keyloggers can silently record every keystroke made and send it to a remote computer anywhere in the world.

With identity theft being the fastest-growing crime (9.9 million Americans were the victims of identity theft last year alone according to the USPS) it is no wonder that the malicious use of keyloggers are on the rise.

Malicious computer activity for the longest time has been blamed on young, misguided computer nerds that were out of touch with the real world The reality is that very sophisticated crime rings have gotten Internet savvy so that they can take advantage of the millions of unsuspecting users that traverse the Internet every day.

The World Wide Web has allowed these organized crime syndicates from around the world to target Internet users from the comfort of their own countries with limited risk, as law enforcement around the world is struggling to catch up with the technology advances.

Although there are both hardware and software keyloggers, the most common threat is the software variety that can reside on a system in a completely invisible state Software keyloggers can be transmitted via e-mail file attachments, instant messaging, self-replicating worms or hidden within the pages of a malicious web site.

Thankfully, most anti-spyware programs today are capable of searching for currently known “Trojan-based” keylogging exploits and remove them.

Anyone planning on preparing their taxes on their own computer should take the time to make sure that their system is “clean” and properly protected before getting started and that the system is in good working order.

In addition to the threat of keylogging, having a system that is already exhibiting problems crash during a lengthy multi-day session of tax preparation is no fun either.

Make sure that Windows is updated with all the latest security patches as well as your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs (the most common way that a keylogger can take advantage of you is if your system has not been updated with all of the latest security updates) “Zero day exploits” are now common place, meaning that often times the same day that a security hole is discovered, someone has written an exploit for it!

If you have not done any preventative maintenance in a while, be sure to run Disk Cleanup, Disk Error-checking and Disk Defragmenter as well as the above routines to help your machine perform better If you have an ‘always on’ high-speed Internet connection, be sure that you are connecting via a broadband router.

And, of course, make sure you have your backup system ready to go so you can save your work in multiple places as you go!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on March 2, 2006