Protect computers from invaders

Dentists who are transitioning towards a “paperless” or “chartless” practice understand the importance of the data residing on their computers.

Dentists who are transitioning towards a “paperless” or “chartless” practice understand the importance of the data residing on their computers. Paper-based systems have been replaced with digital records, and this data and its protection are vital to the health of the practice.

In one of my first columns, we looked at the importance of protecting computers against attacks from the outside, since most offices have some sort of Internet connection. As this field continues to evolve, let’s take another look at the different levels of protection.

Anti-virus software

Traditionally, viruses have been the scourge of the online world. These man-made pieces of software code are designed specifically to create havoc on the computer, whether it’s something as innocuous as a joke to complete erasure of the computer’s hard drives. Therefore, no computer in a dental office should be without anti-virus protection. Some dentists are under the mistaken belief that if only one computer is online, then that computer is the only one that requires protection. This is simply not true! Many viruses and worms can propagate easily over the network to any other computers connected to that online computer. Removing the virus from an infected computer can be successful for a matter of seconds, because the virus can easily reinfect that computer from another network system. There are two basic models of anti-virus protection.

Most smaller offices will simply install a desktop-level anti-virus program on each computer. While Norton’s is the best known, it can cause problems for certain practice management software because it will scan all files passing through the network, slowing the entire network down. Other anti-virus programs providing good results include McAfee, AVG, and NOD32. The other option is to purchase an Enterprise version of anti-virus. In this scenario, the software is installed on the server and protection is provided across the entire network. While these systems offer a better level of control, they can be challenging to set up for the novice and are considerably more expensive than their desktop counterparts.

Spyware and adware

Although viruses and worms can cause a lot of problems, spyware can be equally problematic. Spyware and adware are programs that are installed, either accidentally or without your knowledge. They track your online surfing habits and send that data to other places. Privacy issues aside, these programs eat up your precious computer resources. Spyware-infected machines can slow to a crawl during day-to-day use. The best way to battle these programs is to install a minimum of two anti-spyware programs. Popular ones include Ad-Aware, Spysweeper, and Spybot Search and Destroy. In a recent article in “PC World,” even the best spyware program only found 80 percent of the spy programs, and most were in the 50 to 60 percent range. By running at least two anti-spyware programs, you can increase the odds of removing as many of these programs as possible.

Firewalls

Online computers are prone to constant attacks from the outside. Many programs will scan your computers to find open ports and unprotected systems. The best method of protecting yourself from these attacks is to install a firewall. If your Internet connection is shared, there’s a very good chance that you have a firewall built into the router. One great advantage of a router is its ability to hide the computer behind it ... the only part of your network visible to the outside world is the router itself. However, in many cases, this is not enough. The best-known software firewall is Zone Alarm. The newest patch for Windows XP, SP2, also has a completely redesigned firewall, although it doesn’t do anything to prevent or recognize outbound attacks or from your computer.

One important consideration with all the above programs is to make sure they are set to update themselves automatically online. New viruses and spyware are found almost daily, and an out-of-date program won’t help much.

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, the Internet is not a safe place. There are many people out there who, unfortunately, have nothing better to do than to prove to themselves that they can compromise the integrity of someone else’s data. Installing and maintaining your data-protection programs is an important component to ensuring you do not become one of the casualties.

Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer repair technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be contacted by e-mail at drlavine@thedigitaldentist.com or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.

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