Your Computer Security



What is computer security?

Computer security is the process of preventing and detecting unauthorized use of your computer. Prevention measures help you to stop unauthorized users (also known as "intruders") from accessing any part of your computer system. Detection helps you to determine whether or not someone attempted to break into your system, if they were successful, and what they may have done.

Why should I care about computer security?

We use computers for everything from banking and investing to shopping and communicating with others through email or chat programs. Although you may not consider your communications "top secret," you probably do not want strangers reading your email, using your computer to attack other systems, sending forged email from your computer, or examining personal information stored on your computer (such as financial statements).

Who would want to break into my computer at home? Intruders (also referred to as hackers, attackers, or crackers) may not care about your identity. Often they want to gain control of your computer so they can use it to launch attacks on other computer systems.

Having control of your computer gives them the ability to hide their true location as they launch attacks, often against high-profile computer systems such as government or financial systems. Even if you have a computer connected to the Internet only to play the latest games or to send email to friends and family, your computer may be a target.

Intruders may be able to watch all your actions on the computer, or cause damage to your computer by reformatting your hard drive or changing your data.

How easy is it to break into my computer?

Unfortunately, intruders are always discovering new vulnerabilities (informally called "holes") to exploit in computer software. The complexity of software makes it increasingly difficult to thoroughly test the security of computer systems.

When holes are discovered, computer vendors will usually develop patches to address the problem(s). However, it is up to you, the user, to obtain and install the patches, or correctly configure the software to operate more securely. Most of the incident reports of computer break-ins received at the CERT/CC could have been prevented if system administrators and users kept their computers up-to-date with patches and security fixes.

Also, some software applications have default settings that allow other users to access your computer unless you change the settings to be more secure. Examples include chat programs that let outsiders execute commands on your computer or web browsers that could allow someone to place harmful programs on your computer that run when you click on them.

Computer security risks to home users

What is at risk?

Information security is concerned with three main areas:

Confidentiality - information should be available only to those who rightfully have access to it Integrity -- information should be modified only by those who are authorized to do so Availability -- information should be accessible to those who need it when they need it These concepts apply to home Internet users just as much as they would to any corporate or government network. You probably wouldn't let a stranger look through your important documents. In the same way, you may want to keep the tasks you perform on your computer confidential, whether it's tracking your investments or sending email messages to family and friends. Also, you should have some assurance that the information you enter into your computer remains intact and is available when you need it.

Some security risks arise from the possibility of intentional misuse of your computer by intruders via the Internet. Others are risks that you would face even if you weren't connected to the Internet (e.g. hard disk failures, theft, power outages). The bad news is that you probably cannot plan for every possible risk. The good news is that you can take some simple steps to reduce the chance that you'll be affected by the most common threats -- and some of those steps help with both the intentional and accidental risks you're likely to face.

Before we get to what you can do to protect your computer or home network, let�s take a closer look at some of these risks.

Intentional misuse of your computer

The most common methods used by intruders to gain control of home computers are briefly described below. More detailed information is available by reviewing the URLs listed in the References section below.

  • Trojan horse programs
  • Back door and remote administration programs
  • Denial of service
  • Being an intermediary for another attack
  • Unprotected Windows shares
  • Mobile code (Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX)
  • Cross-site scripting
  • Email spoofing
  • Email-borne viruses
  • Hidden file extensions
  • Chat clients
  • Packet sniffing
Computer Security Tips and Help

1. Keep your passwords strong, and keep them in your head.
2. Don't open it - you don't know where it's been...
3. Get anti-virus software. Use it. Keep it up to date.
4. If you can't trust the source you're downloading from, you can't trust the file.
5. Don't leave a computer you're logged into unattended or unprotected.
6. Data on paper is the same as data on the screen.
7. Your operating system needs to live and breathe. Don't let it get stale.

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