Q: What tools should I use to keep my computer safe?
A: It really depends on the kind of computer you're using. The UW maintains a list of minimum computer security standards for each computer on the network, though this may seem somewhat hard to understand. In general, you should make sure that your computer is up to date on the latest patches and security updates for your operating system (whatever that operating system is, as contrary to popular belief there are worms out there for every OS), have the latest anti-virus software (you can get it through the latest version of the UWICK or download it from the UWICK page), are running a decent firewall (the main three operating systems come with default firewalls, though for more protection you may want to check out third-party firewalls such as ZoneAlarm or Sygate Personal Firewall), and have adequete spyware protection (in the form of Spybot and Ad-Aware).
The thing that can't be stressed enough about this, however, is the fact that all of these
programs are useless without being updated on a regular basis. Make sure you run either manual or automatic updates for your programs at least once a month, and update the virus definitions for your anti-virus program at least once a week. Which leads me to the next question.
Q: What are virus definitions and how do I update them?
A: Virus definitions are information files that tell an anti-virus program what kinds of malicious software to look for. It's a list of bad software that your anti-virus program has to look for and remove. However, without this list, your anti-virus program won't know what to look for, and may deem an otherwise-malignant program as being harmless. Therefore, it is prudent to keep up to date with all of the latest virus definitions. How to enable automatic updates or get manual updates varies from program to program, but the UW has a good guide for enabling McAfee VirusScan for automatic updates here, while other anti-virus programs have their own guides on their respective pages.
(Yes, it can be argued that this is not an effective way of doing things, as there are so many threats out there that it's hard to factor in all of them, and it would be much more effective to only allow trusted programs to run, but that's just not the way things work in today's modern computing world.)
Q: I got an email from PayPal/eBay/a fellow from Nigeria that says fraudulent activity was
detected/my account is invalid/he has $20 million for me. Is this real?
A: More than likely, no. Don't read it, don't open it, and just delete it. These are examples of "phishing" scams that have been on the rise in recent years, which attempt to get personal information that can be used for identity theft by sending out official-looking emails. Or even just blatant forgeries, for that matter. People will believe anything if you send it in email, and so it pays to be skeptically paranoid while using the internet.
Q: Can I get more Ethernet ports in my dorm room?
A: No. Because if you got ports in your room, then everyone would want ports in their room, and then HFS would have their hands full rearranging all of the dorm rooms to accommodate all of you. HFS overcharges on everything as it stands. Just imagine what everything would cost if they had to go through and retrofit all the dorm rooms with extra Ethernet ports.
If you want to use multiple computers in your dorm, consider investing in a switch. You can get them for free (with a bit of a damage deposit) from the front desk of your dorm, or you can pick one up at your favorite computer store.
Q: Is it okay if I use a router for this instead of a switch?
A: It is, if you know what you're doing. A good rule of thumb to follow is to avoid plugging a cable from the wall port in your room to one of the 'LAN' ports on the router, and to similarly avoid plugging the 'WAN' port (sometimes called the 'Uplink' port) into a machine on your local network. Routers are fairly sophisticated devices and not the simple network appliances that switches and hubs are, and they attempt to figure out where other networks are relative to themselves when plugged in. This can result in confusion if they are not plugged in properly, and your entire dorm floor can have their network access disrupted by this as their machines can't figure out which router to trust and get access from.
Q: Help! I can only access pages on the UW network from my campus internet connection!
A: You are more than likely blocked due to a worm your computer has contracted. Check out the UW's unblock page here for information on what you should do to get yourself unblocked.
Q: where da moviez at? (Or: The Ubiquitous File-sharing Question)
A: You're a big kid now. You can ask your friends in the real world, instead of opening our
austere community up to potential litigation by posting your questions on the internet. Or you can check out Napster at the UW, but that requires a Windows-based computer and is only for music. Besides, you don't want legal music anyway you dirty hacker.