When even the mainstream press is reporting about potential OS vulnerabilities, a little paranoia about your computer system is understandable. If you run a full-time Internet connection in your small office/home office (SOHO), you probably run some type of firewall software to keep out unwanted visitors and connections. You might even use built-in OS tools to track your computer's connections with other systems on your network or the outside world.
Windows users can run the netstat command to return current connection information for every active connection on the local computer. This command returns a large amount of information—some useful and some not so useful—and is a quick snapshot of the current connection status. Unfortunately, this snapshot is static and connections to your computer aren't. Simply connecting to a Web site might open 20 or 30 independent connections on a multitude of ports on your computer. And if you watch cookies, you'll notice that Web sites prompt you to let them place multiple cookies per site in your Web-browser cookie cache.
So how do you keep an eye on all these connections in real time? One solution is a $10 shareware utility called X-NetStat 5.0 from Fresh Software (http://www.freshsw.com). X-NetStat provides a GUI to the information that the netstat command supplies and updates itself at a user-defined interval (the default setting is 10 seconds). The tool resolves IP addresses to common names, if possible, so that you can easily read what sites or locations are connected to your computer. It also resolves local machine names using the NetBIOS name table so that other machines on your local network are identified by name rather than DHCP-assigned IP address.
X-NetStat lets you display and save information about any connection it can see and kill any questionable connections through a right-click context menu. You don't need to supply any special configuration information, and you can minimize the application to the system tray so that it continually runs in the background with a relatively small (about 2MB) memory footprint. If keeping track of your computer's connection information is important to you, X-NetStat offers inexpensive peace of mind.