Raymond Lodato writes "Where do I begin? Oh yes! If you are a teenager who uses computers, or the parent or guardian of a teenager who does, buy Always Use Protection, by Dan Appleman! Let me take a little time to explain why." Read on for the rest of Lodato's review.
Dan Appleman knows how to talk to teenagers. He's made the presentation very logical, he keeps the chapters a reasonable length so a teenager won't feel overwhelmed, and he had a crew of teenagers review this book before it was published so that he knew they would understand it. Those adults who aren't technically adept will find it an easy read, too.
Always Use Protection is broken up into three main parts: Protecting Your Machine, Protecting Your Privacy, and Protecting Yourself. There is a fourth part with useful appendixes, also.
Protecting Your Machine goes through all of the gremlins that can bother your computer, how to get rid of them and how to prevent them from coming back. Viruses, Trojan horse programs, and worms are covered clearly. Not too much depth involved, but not too little either. Dan covers the ins and outs of the three main preventive measures: anti-virus programs, firewalls, and system configuration and updates. He makes sure that his discussions relate to the types of programs that teenagers are likely to run: P2P software, online games, Instant Message clients, e-mail programs, and web browsers. He's careful to include other avenues of attack besides the Internet, such as infected floppies and CDs cut by well-meaning friends.
Always Use Protection explains how to determine which type of anti-virus programs are available and how to run them (using McAfee's VirusScan as an example), but puts the responsibility for deciding which one to use squarely in the reader's lap. Dan has made sure that he's not pushing any particular product over another. In fact, there were one or two places where I wished he'd just come right out and say I'd recommend blah-blah software, but he always said the reader should check the pros and cons of the possibilities and make their own decision.
Firewalls are discussed in detail, as well as their possibly unintended consequences (an online game refuses to run because a critical port is being blocked by the firewall, for example). He does state that if you're on a network behind a router, you may not need a firewall. This is my only disagreement with Dan. I believe a personal firewall should be on each and every machine, regardless of how it connects. It will protect not only the machine itself, but make it harder for the machine to attack others.
Software updates are probably one of the most under-utilized options in the home. News items in papers and on the web speak frequently about how such-and-such a virus got into machines mainly because security updates available from the manufacturer for months were simply not installed. Dan makes sure that the reader understands how shortsighted that approach really is. The updates are usually free, and just take a little time to download and install. Always Use Protection explains exactly how to do that and why it's a good thing.
The configuration chapter describes many little tweaks available to harden your browser and e-mail reader. Many people are not aware of the number of 'dials' they can play with (and if they were, they'd probably be overwhelmed), but this chapter zeroes in on the most important ones.
If this book was only chapter 9 - What to Do When You've Been Hit - it would still be worth the cover price. In this chapter, Dan gives a careful, step-by-step menu of what you can and should do to recover as much as you possibly can, eradicate the malware that is causing the problem, and get your system back to a usable state. It's the one chapter he says you shouldn't read front-to-back, but follow the links (if you see this, go to this section) like one of those make-your-own-ending books. I have this one bookmarked for future reference.
The next four chapters form Part II - Protecting Your Privacy. In here, Dan explains the various ways your personal information can be gleaned, mostly from a user innocently filling in a form supplied by a con artist. He talks about identity theft and what it means to a teenager. The need for good passwords is clearly discussed, but he acknowledges that most people won't use strong enough ones. Therefore, he promotes a simple plan with three passwords (high, medium, and low-security) that will work in most cases. He ends off this part with a good treatise on cookies of all forms, and how to turn off the worst ones.
Finally, he talks about protecting yourself in chat rooms and from common scams. While there is a lot of press about teenagers being lured by scoundrels in chat rooms, Dan notices that the actual statistics are very low. Regardless of the statistics, he gives extremely good advice about how to use a chat room safely (mostly involving lying about almost any bit of personal information you might be asked for).
The appendixes have good summary information for teens and adults, and have a special appendix just for the parents. It give good advice to make sure your teenager is willing to come to you for question without worrying about losing online privileges.
All in all, Always Use Protection should be read by every parent and, hopefully, by their kids. I'm going to try to get my 15- and 13-year old to read it (Good luck to me! You should have seen the arguments to get them to finish their summer reading!) I liked the approach, the content, and the presentation so well, I had to rate this a 10.
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