If I'm logged off from all Internet service, can some unauthorized person still access my running computer from across the DSL connection?

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Q: My Internet provider is Verizon DSL. The DSL modem feeds a Netgear router (with firewall), which in turn feeds my desktop computer. The PC runs McAfee Security Center with all functions enabled, including its firewall. I have two questions: 1. If I’m logged off from all Internet service, can some unauthorized person still access my running computer from across the DSL connection? 2. Does the fact that some of my programs with automatic update enabled open my computer to unwanted access from individuals other than those authorized by the automatic updates?

— Paul Ackerman, Kenmore

A: There’s only one absolute when it comes to Internet security: Any computer connected to the Internet is vulnerable. And that’s true even if you’re not actually logged into your Internet service provider.

Firewalls and antivirus software don’t provide absolute protection. The best hackers have penetrated even Defense Department security measures.

The trick for most of us is to implement enough protection that casual hackers can’t get at our systems. I strongly recommend using a firewall and an antivirus program. That said, I don’t use the “safest” possible configuration for my firewall since that would make doing business on the Internet a real pain. So I trade a little safety for convenience.

We all have to make some such compromise. The problem, of course, is that we’re having to make those choices without all the information. We don’t know just how much risk we’re exposing ourselves to if we leave a specific port open. And we don’t have the time, money or expertise to monitor traffic on that port to detect suspicious behavior.

The bottom line: It seems to me that you’ve taken reasonable steps to secure your computer and I would not advise you to refrain from using automatic updates.

Q: My question involves the yellow triangle in the lower left-hand corner of the page and the “Done but with errors on page” notice that accompanies it. When I go to a specific local Web site, everything looks like it’s supposed to except I’m unable to play any of their videos. The video player loads the picture but when I hit play nothing happens. I can go to other Web sites and receive the video just fine. I’m using Windows XP with Internet Explorer 7. In the dialogue box that pops up, the following message appears: “Problems with this Web page might prevent it from being properly displayed or functioning properly.”

— Jack Hanson, Seattle

A: Looks like a scripting error to me. The Web site is attempting to run a script but there is an incompatibility with your browser or with installed applets. If you’re only getting the error when you visit one site, the problem is almost certainly on the site’s end. I’d report the error to the Webmaster of the site.

Q: I have an IBM ThinkPad laptop running Windows XP Professional. I also have an old HP LaserJet 4L printer that I dearly love. Unfortunately, I do not have the drivers and software disks. They are 3,000 miles away in Alaska. I want to download the HP 4L LaserJet drivers online. Is a site like www.printcountry.com safe? Also, will I need anything else besides the drivers to make it work? I also need an adapter cable to run from HP 4L cable to the USB port on my laptop. What is this cable called?

— Ed Kobak, Greenwater

A: Why not just go to Hewlett Packard? Its Web site — www.hp.com — offers a wide array of Laserjet 4L drivers, including Windows XP, for free download. And no, you won’t need software other than the current drivers to make your printer work with Windows.

As for the cable, you’re probably looking for a parallel to USB converter cable. If you can’t find one at your local store, you’ll find a host of online vendors ready to satisfy your needs.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.