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Vaccinating Your Computer’s Web Connection

Did you know that when you click a link or visit an Internet site on your computer’s browser, there are several things happening in the background? Yeah, you likely did since right now, you’re on the Norton.com site and reading up on internet safety. You’re way ahead of the crowd, by definition.

I bring this up merely to introduce the topic of DNS or Domain Name System. This is the method used by internet browsers to interpret a request for a web address and direct your connection to the right place.  There’s a bunch of servers out there delivering up these domain requests and sending them in the correct direction. It does it by translating web addresses that look pretty user friendly (like www.norton.com) to IP addresses which are meaningless strings of numbers except to computers and techy types. Nevertheless, it’s all pretty critical stuff, really the underpinnings of this whole web system. When DNS goes awry, the entire "click and get to a website you want" business falls apart.

And that’s exactly the idea behind a kind of malware known as DNS Changer. If you are unlucky enough to get infected with this sort of thing, just opening your browser or clicking a link can take you to a fake version of the web site you wanted. Or selecting anything from a web search again sends you to the wrong place. An estimated 4 million PCs and Macs (that’s right, Macs) were infected with this thing. Due to ongoing efforts by law enforcement to shut this malware and associated servers down, those very victims are due for another shock. If they haven’t cleaned up the malware, they are about to get their internet turned off.

On Google’s Online Security Blog, they estimate there are still about ½ million computers still infected. The strategy used by law enforcement to wean those infected computers off the criminal DNS servers was to substitute their own servers and redirect the traffic. But those servers go offline soon and potentially anyone still running an infected computer will have trouble connecting at all. For this reason, they've started showing those with infected systems an alert at the top of their new web searches. 

This issue of making sure your web requests go down the right path and don’t end up in the dark corners of the Internet where bad things happen to nice computers is one that can be prevented entirely. The usual advice: don’t click unknown links, be careful what search results you click on, don’t open unknown attachments or emails, etc. But you can also use Norton’s free Connect Safe DNS tool to ensure your network or computer traffic has a safe and direct journey to the right places. Be sure to click on this link to learn more about Norton Connect Safe, another nifty free tool from Norton from Symantec.

More coverage on this story at Computerworld.