Criminals break into our systems online and add software that gives them control. It’s an easy procedure only if their target system is unprotected.

911 call from a friend:

“Help, my computer is going crazy.”

Never one to leave crazy unturned, I mosied over. She was right. Her system was bonkers. The hard drive was thrashing, all by itself.

I did the classic bailout, rebooting while pressing F-8 to go into Safe Mode. I knew if I got that far, it was probably a software, not hardware, problem.

Meanwhile, I considered the alternatives. I suspected a virus. That eventually turned out to be close.

Clue No. 1:  Safe Mode had cut her Internet connection, and that stopped the drive action. When I restored it, things went haywire once again. That made a network intrusion very possible.

Criminals break into our systems online and add software that gives them control. It’s an easy procedure only if their target system is unprotected.

The reason spammers rarely get caught is their ways use our computers without our knowing it. Then they spam the world with all manner of scams through our boxes without fear of being traced.

These intrusions can happen any time our system is online. They’re greatly assisted by our habit of not turning our systems off.

Unlike viruses which eventually become apparent, system intrusions are stealthy. The signs they are on us are the same for a number of other computer functions such as the hard drive working or data being sent to and from the Internet.

Intrusions get nasty when their senders get greedy. My friend’s system was being used to send hundreds of thousands of e-mails. The hard drive was working overtime to cope.

I Installed Windows firewall. This immediately created a roadblock to incoming malicious data. Then I updated her virus checker, ran a scan and found the culprit, a little script residing in her Windows folder.

The intruder had run a program that automatically collects the addresses of open, unsecured Internet connections.

In a way, my friend was lucky her system failed. She never would have known her Internet connection was compromised. She wasn’t aware of the need for firewalls and regular anti-virus scanning.

Tech folks call this situational awareness. Today’s average computer user who takes a system for granted can be a target for intrusion. The pickings get really easy without a firewall installed.

Contact Jim Hillibish at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com.