Thursday, July 16, 2009

Be careful out there

It doesn't matter whether you've got the latest patched version of MS Windows, all the antivirus software money can buy, or the most fabulous firewall in the world - you may still be vulnerable to some of the evils lurking online.

If you need proof of this, just look at how often your Microsoft-based PC regularly downloads patches and fixes for brand new, hitherto unknown vulnerabilities that continue to be uncovered and exploited on an almost weekly basis.

The latest round of patches, issued on Tuesday of this week US-time, includes a raft of fix-ups, including a couple of "zero-day" holes that, until fixed, could have compromised the security of any machine targeted by suitably skilled hackers.

And it's not just Microsoft products that place your systems at risk...

The much vaunted Firefox browser has also shown itself vulnerable to nasty security vulnerabilities this week and, at the time of this posting, no fix has yet been issued for this huge hole.

So, apart from running some esoteric, seldom seen operating system and hoping that it's too small a target for hackers to bother with, just what can savvy computer users do to avoid placing their valuable data at risk?

Linux is one answer but it is also not a golden bullet, just look at the long list of security vulnerabilities reported for one distribution of this increasingly popular Windows alternative.

It appears that the best weapon against having your system compromised is vigilance and good practice.

The truth is that no security strategy is any stronger than its weakest component. There's no point in having the most expensive and capable firewall in the world if your users are free to plug in "bought from home" USB drives that may contain malware.

Likewise, there's no point in dropping your guard just because you've invested in the latest and greatest anti-virus software. Although it's a great help, it's far from 100% effective in detecting and eliminating new threats to your system that may infiltrate other first-line defenses.

Perhaps the only real protection against losing valuable data or up-time to malware is a strong sense of paranoia -- and a good set of regularly refreshed backups.

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