So you have gone out and purchased a computer (or a laptop)! Congratulations! It probably cost you a pretty penny and exhausted your bank balance for years to come, and when you start it up, you realise that although you might have a computer, you have no software for it apart from the basic operating system. (like Windows 7) How do you type a document, or create a spreadsheet to manage your budget, or you need to protect your computer against viruses. What can you do when your budget is tight?

Working for the university does has its advantages. You can get this software for really low prices but the licencing terms of that software mean that when you leave the university, you no longer “own” that software. Secondly only you as personnel or a student have the right to get cheap software. Members of your family who are not university students or personnel are excluded!

I did a quick survey of a basic word processing program like Microsoft Word (part of the Microsoft Office suite) and a decent anti-virus software that will protect your computer against viruses and clean up existing infections:

  • Microsoft Office 2010 (Home & Student version – which is as basic as you can get) costs between R550 and R750 retail.
  • An anti-virus program (usually called a security suite) like Norton, McAfee or BitDefender will cost you between R400 and R700 annually (you have to buy an annual subscription so you can download the latest virus definitions to protect your computer)

So you have to fork out between R900 and R1400 for the absolute basic software that you require…Ouch!

But there is a solution – open source or freeware software.

“Open Source” software  refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. Open source software is usually developed as a public collaboration and made freely available. Freeware is software you can download, pass around, and distribute without any initial payment.

Instead of buying Microsoft Office, you might consider downloading and installing LibreOffice.

LibreOffice is the free power-packed Open Source personal productivity suite for Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers, that give you six applications for all your document production and data processing needs: a word processor, a spreadsheet creator, a presentation creator, a vector based drawing program, an equation editor and a database creator. What is more is that it is 100% compatible with Microsoft Office files and can both read and write files that will work and display on computers with LibreOffice…

Cost: R0.00!

Instead of buying an anti-virus program like Norton AV or McAfee, download either the Avira or Avast! free versions of anti-virus software. Both Avira and Avast! are complete anti-virus and anti-spyware solutions for Windows PCs, and they not only protect you from unknown online threats, they also scan your PC to get rid of the junk that’s already there.

Avira and Avast! perform scheduled scans, and provide real-time protection against viruses coming from email, web browsing, instant messaging and peer-to-peer file sharing. Their web shields keeps suspicious websites from loading, and  I like Avast’s “sandbox” that lets you isolate programs and keep them from changing anything on your computer.

Cost R0.00!

That is a good start for now. I will post some more articles on some pretty useful “free” software later on!

Filed Under (Editorial) by David Wiles on 07-04-2011

No PhishingYour own computer behavior can be blamed for all those phishing emails cluttering up your in box. That’s the conclusion of a university-based communications research project:

Pride in the number of social networking friends you have just might make you a target of those phishing schemes. The greater your number of contacts, the greater the exposure. The chances of becoming a phishing target are increased by the number of good deals you just couldn’t pass up on line. Of course, if you take the bait and actually respond to a phishing email, they’ve gotcha on the sucker list.

Four PhD’s took the problem to heart using an integrated information processing model to test individual differences in determining who is vulnerable to phishing. Arun Vishwanath, H. Raghav, Tejaswini Herath, Rui Chen, and Jingguo Wang from several universities across the US wrote about their study in the journal “Decision Support Systems and Electronic Commerce.” Consumer behavior, information technology, and e-business all were considered.

The sender may display with a credible business name, current event, or government institution in your email message. Maybe it’s a credit card company or bank that appears to have sent you an important note. Could be that the Department of Motor Vehicles needs you to respond. Perhaps a travel agency is sending you a “special” or an organization for a “good cause” is vying for your attention. All of them should be scrutinized and usually avoided. Even though they will entice you with statements which arouse fear (delinquent payment), excitement (cheap tickets to a concert), or urgency (Tsunami victims need help now), don’t be hooked.

The team had several suggestions for ferreting out phony phishing from valid emails. First and foremost install a spam blocker. You can’t always rely, as we have all seen, on generic web security. The AntiPhishing Working Group (APWG) is a law enforcement association focused on eliminating the fraud and identity theft that result from phishing, pharming and email spoofing of all types. They indicate that phishing resulting from classified ads rose 142 percent between the first and second quarter of 2010. They warn us that phishers can even imitate the “https://” that you normally see when you’re on a secure Web server. The APWG suggests forwarding suspicious email to mailto:// The group has more useful information on the APWG site.

The Buffalo University led team suggested having several email accounts to help you recognize oddball mailings, if having more passwords to remember doesn’t drive you crazy. When you have a single account dedicated to banking transactions and another for communicating, it should be easier to notice when an unusual or unrelated email pops up. Finally, keep business and personal emailing separate and review them apart from each other when you can focus on what you are doing.

The university research was based on “a sample of intended victims of an actual phishing attack,” Vishwanath said. The phishers commonly are attempting to get people to provide personal and sensitive information such as their usernames, passwords, and even credit card details. He noted, “Our findings suggest that habitual patterns of media use combined with high levels of email load have a strong and significant influence on individuals’ likelihood to be phished.”

Before you say, “I don’t have to worry; I’m computer literate,” think again. The study showed that a person’s computer competency was not protection from phishing scams. Taking time to be aware of potential deceptions was. So, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is… a phishing scheme.